New York Times Poll Showing 72% Support for Obama's Health Care Plan Was Stacked With Obama Supporters

June 23, 2009 - 10:16 PM
A New York Times/CBS News poll released last Sunday, which found that 72 percent of Americans support the "public option" in health-care reform, over-sampled Obama supporters. 

President Barack Obama addressed the American Medical Association during their annual meeting in Chicago, Monday, June 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

(CNSNews.com) - A New York Times/CBS News poll released Saturday that showed broad bipartisan support for President Obama’s health care reform, over-sampled Obama voters compared to McCain voters, critics say.

The poll, administered June 12-16, found that 72 percent of respondents favored the creation of a government health-insurance plan that would compete with private insurers.
 
It also said 50 percent of respondents thought the government would do a better job providing medical coverage than private insurers, up from 30 percent in 2007; and that 59 percent thought the government would be better at holding down costs, up from 47 percent two years ago.
 
But critics including pollster Kellyanne Conway say the results are inaccurate because they are heavily skewed toward those who voted for Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

In addition, other indicators point toward a repeat of the defeat Hillary Clinton's proposed government-run faced in the early ‘90’s.

Out of 895 respondents, 24 percent were Republicans, 38 percent Democrats, and 38 percent were independents, according to a June 20 release from CBS News. While the release says the sampling was conducted at random, those numbers are significantly below the 32.6 percent who identify themselves as Republican according to a May survey from the nonpartisan Rasmussen Reports.

Similarly, the Times/CBS poll said 48 percent of respondents had voted for Obama, versus 25 percent for McCain, a nearly two-to-one advantage for Obama supporters. 

Had those results been reflected in the November presidential election, Obama would have garnered 66 percent of the vote to McCain’s 34 percent, Conway, president & CEO of “the polling company,” told CNSNews.com.
 
“Was the vote 66-34? You tell me,” Conway said. 
 
In 2008, Obama won 53 percent of the vote, McCain won 46 percent.

Conway said that the poll was skewed toward Democrats and Obama supporters because the Times and CBS made it so.

“Their original result was more in line (with other non-partisan polling for party identification) but they weighted those numbers,” Conway charged. 
 
The random information gathered by the two media outlets originally saw fewer independents and Democrats, but their polling methodology saw those numbers shift at the expense of Republican representation. Conway called this a case of “a conclusion in search of evidence.” 
 
Janet Elder, editor for news surveys and election analysis at The New York Times, defended the poll’s methodology. 
 
“Although some polling organizations do, The New York Times/CBS News poll does not weight by party ID,” she told CNSNews.com. “We weight by characteristics that are known from census data.”
 
Scott Rasmussen, founder and CEO of Rasmussen Reports, a nonpartisan pollster, defended the veracity of the Times/CBS News poll -- but found it difficult.
 
 “We have absolutely no idea what their weighting process is and what their technique is,” he told CNSNews.com. “I believe that they did not make adjustments based on party (identification). I believe they go on other factors and simply report what comes out of that.”
 
Elder said in 19 out of every 20 cases, the results using their technique “will differ by no more than 3 percentage points in either direction” of the outcome they would have had if they’d sought to interview “all American adults.”
 
But Conway says the over-sampling of Democrats was consistent throughout the poll. 

“Show me the other polls that are that low," she said. "If you look at the way Scott (Rasmussen) reports things, they’re very different from The New York Times. The Census is taken every 10 years, so what are they looking at? The 2000 Census?”
 
“Almost nobody ever takes them to task for this, because they are CBS and the New York Times,” Conway added. “It is true that more Americans are identifying themselves as Independents, but everyone is doing polling; no one (else) is getting these numbers,” Conway said.
 
The Times ran an accompanying story on the front page of the Sunday edition with the headline “In Poll, Wide Support for Government Run Health.” The findings were also reported by most other major outlets. 
 
The Times article interpreted the poll results as indicating broad, bipartisan support for government involvement in health care.
 
“Americans overwhelmingly support substantial changes to the health care system,” the article began, “and (they) are strongly behind one of the most contentious proposals Congress is considering, a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers.”
 
But other key findings in the poll suggest, on the other hand, that Americans have not significantly changed their positions since the last time health-care reform was seriously considered by Congress, according to Conway.
 
“We are identical to where we were in 1993-94,” she told CNSNews.com, “with only 51 percent of respondents even in the Democrat-skewing poll saying the health-care system needs fundamental changes, versus 52 percent in January 1994. When the question becomes whether the system needs to be completely rebuilt, 34 percent say yes in the NYT/CBS poll, versus 38 percent in 1994.
 
Additionally, the vast majority of Americans are satisfied with their own insurance coverage, as they were at the beginning of the Clinton administration. Approximately 77 percent in the current poll say they are at least somewhat satisfied.
 
Rasmussen points out that, in these areas, the Times/CBS poll was consistent with other polls.

“CBS, like everybody else, found that most people are satisfied with their health-care coverage,” he said. “But they have qualms about the overall system. And that is the biggest single obstacle to reform: people do not want to change their own coverage.”
 
Conway agreed. Because of their satisfaction with their own coverage, Americans are unlikely to rock the boat.
 
“The difference this year could be that Barack Obama is a more compelling messenger than Hillary Clinton.” But, she added: “Americans can do the math.”
 
They are hesitant to support the record expenditure it would take to pass sweeping health-care reform. Conway says.
 
"As they are deciding whether to take a vacation this summer or keep their child in private elementary school . . . they are asking to take a look at the ledger book now,” she added.
 
Americans like the words “change” and “reform,” she says, “but then they find out that you can’t define those.” When they see the possibility of their own healthcare options changing, “(T)hey discover that their reform is not someone else’s reform.”
 
Conway’s “the polling company,” in conjunction with Americans for Tax Reform, is performing an audit of all numbers released on health-care reform, to be issued on Wednesday.
 
The Times/CBS poll reports a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. CBS did not return calls for comment.