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Two Budget Plans, Two Divergent Polls Two Budget Plans, Two Divergent Polls

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Politics

Two Budget Plans, Two Divergent Polls

April 22, 2011
The ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted last Thursday to Sunday, immediately after President Obama's speech at The George Washington University in which he decried House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's, R-Wis., 2012 budget proposal, which would reduce federal spending on Medicare by converting it to a voucher system that would give money to seniors to purchase private insurance. The CBS News/New York Times poll, on the other hand, is slightly more recent: It was conducted last Friday to Wednesday, as the competing budget proposals earned more media coverage through the weekend and into the early part of this week. Other key differences involve the phrasing of the two questions. The ABC News/Washington Post poll asked respondents if they support or oppose "cutting spending on Medicare," while the CBS News/New York Times poll asked, "would you be willing or not willing to reduce spending on Medicare." The words "cutting" and "reduce" may have slightly different connotations, and respondents may also respond differently to the choices of "support/oppose" versus "willing/not willing." So how to explain the divergence between CBS News polls conducted over the last two months? Some of it may be due to the increased media coverage of Ryan's proposals, which were adopted by the House last week. Another possible cause: The order in which the questions were asked. In each of the two polls, respondents were asked the question about reducing Medicare spending as part of a list of proposals to reduce the budget deficit. In the March poll, before being asked about Medicare, respondents were asked about reducing defense spending, raising the retirement age for Social Security benefits, reducing Social Security benefits to wealthier retirees, reducing the amount of federal money available for projects in your area and paying more in taxes. But this month, the Medicare question was the first of the list, and it was asked immediately after respondents were asked if they think "it will be necessary ... the increase taxes on people like you" to reduce the deficit. One other discrepancy in the polling this week concerns the nature of the changes proposed by Ryan and Republicans. The ABC News/Washington Post poll found that a majority opposed those changes, but the CBS News/New York Times poll reports that a slight plurality approves of the plan. The ABC News/Washington Post question:

I'm going to read you two statements about the future of the Medicare program. After I read both statements, please tell me which one comes closer to your own view: Medicare should remain as it is today, with a defined set of benefits for people over 65, OR Medicare should be changed so that people over 65 would receive a check or voucher from the government each year for a fixed amount they can use to shop for their own private health insurance policy.

The CBS News/New York Times question:

In order to reduce the budget deficit, it has been proposed that Medicare should be changed from a program in which the government pays doctors and hospitals for treating seniors to a program in which the government helps seniors purchase private health insurance. Would you approve or disapprove of changing Medicare in this way?

The ABC News/Washington Post poll paints the Ryan proposal as a check for a "fixed amount they can use to shop for their own private insurance policy," while CBS News/New York Times portrays the Ryan plan as "a program in which the government helps seniors purchase private insurance." Ultimately, the wording of polls matters. But so do each party's efforts to win the continuing argument over the federal budget. More research is needed, but the CBS News/New York Times poll suggests that opposition to the Ryan budget may not be the slam dunk for which Democrats have hoped. The ABC News/Washington Post poll surveyed 1,001 adults, for a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent. The CBS News/New York Times poll surveyed 1,224 adults, for a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent.
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