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Polls: Americans Love (or Hate) the Ryan Plan

The Kos kids are pretty stoked about a new National Journal poll that shows a majority of Americans oppose Paul Ryan's Medicare reform plan:


Quoth the Chief Kosmonaut:

House Republicans are sure they have a new message strategy for their plan to gut Medicare that will make the plan not devastatingly unpopular. They even did focus group testing on it. Apparently, they didn't focus on the right group...Here's the kicker: "Even a solid 56 percent to 30 percent majority of Republicans preferred the current system." That'll make the Democrats' job that much easier. All that they have to do is simply tell seniors what the Republican plan would do: put them back at the mercy of private insurance.

I'll address these points in a moment, but first, here's another poll (Reason/Rupe) that shows almost exactly the opposite:

"For people under 55, would you favor or oppose changing Medicare into a program that gives them a credit that can be used to purchase a private health insurance plan of their choice when they are eligible?

Strongly favor: 36%
Somewhat favor: 29%
Somewhat oppose: 8%
Strongly oppose: 16%
Don't know/refused: 11%

Within this question, 65 percent of Americans favor Ryan's proposal, with just 24 opposed.  Why, it's almost as if question wording can influence poll results.  Now, a few responses to Kos' arguments:

(1) The bill that "gutted Medicare" was Obamacare, which cut $500 Billion from the program to pay for an unpopular new entitlement program.  Also, Ryan's Medicare reform is drawn directly from a bipartisan plan he co-authored with a liberal Senator.

(2) "Seniors" are not affected by the Ryan plan.  At all.  To scare them into believing otherwise is a lie.  That's why the Reason poll's policy description is more accurate than NJ's. 

(3) With all respect to National Journal's pollster, their question is premised on an actuarial fallacy.  Sure, lots of people may want Medicare to continue "as it is today, with the government providing health insurance and paying doctors and hospitals directly for the services they provide to seniors," but Medicare's own trustees admit this current arrangement will become insolvent within 12 years.  Therefore, the question above is the equivalent of asking a group of second grade girls whether pretty unicorns should be legal.  "Yes!" they'd squeal, but that wouldn't make it any more possible in reality.


Parting thoughts: Yes, major reforms are difficult to sell, and to poll.  On the latter point, question wording is often the key.  On the former, it often comes down to salesmanship.  I'd put our salesman up against theirs any day of the week. Finally, Ben Domenech notes on Twitter that the New York Times' "room for debate" symposium on the Ryan plan features not a single supporter of the plan.  The conservatives represented take the approach that Ryan's budget doesn't go far enough.  There are fair arguments to be made on that point, but I think Avik Roy has it right:

I can’t put it any better than Ramesh does below, in a related context:

I have my disagreements with some of the Ryan plan’s elements and some of its omissions, but the idea that a plan that commits to $5 trillion in cuts from Obama’s budget, the prevention of a major tax increase, the reform of Medicare and welfare programs, and the repeal of Obamacare is “[o]n balance. . . a disappointment” strikes me as a failure of perspective.

No politically feasible deficit-reduction plan will ever be perfect. But any Republican who opposes the Ryan plan wholesale, because of its imperfections, is plainly not serious about reducing the size of government.

Yes. "Good being the enemy of the perfect," and all that.


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