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Real Journalism: NPR Tweaks Obama's Stance on ACA to Help Poll Results

Real, unbiased polling? Er, maybe not.

In an attempt to make the Affordable Care Act more palatable to the average American, pollsters Stan Greenberg (a Democrat) and Whit Ayers (a Republican) rephrased the Democrats' position, to make it sound less drastic than repealing the whole thing. Republicans have made no secret of their desire to "repeal and replace" the sweeping law, but Democrats' position is essentially to keep it -- they have not presented any official position toward changing aspects of the law, but you wouldn't know that reading this poll question.


The poll asked swing state voters their opinions based on the positions of the two parties' presidential candidates, although they don't use their names in the setup. Here are the options, explicitly identified with each party:

The Republican candidate says we should repeal ObamaCare, and replace it with reforms that will specifically address health insurance problems such as stopping insurance companies from canceling policies or denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition. We do not need a massive 2,700 page bill that will lead to a federal government takeover of our health care system.

The Democratic candidate says the Supreme Court has spoken and it’s now time for us to move forward. We should make improvements in the Affordable Care Act, but we must never again allow insurance companies to set lifetime limits if you get sick, discriminate if you have a pre-existing condition, charge more because you’re a woman, or drop young people up to age 26.

Now, to many, "make improvements" -- presented side-by-side with the parts of the law that many people tend to be OK with -- sounds like an attractive option, especially when compared with the GOP's stance to get rid of the whole thing. But the Democrats -- and more specifically, Obama -- haven't actually offered any areas in which they think the law could be "improved"; in fact, the Democratic position seems to have been directly lifted from Obama's remarks following the Supreme Court's ruling that upheld the law.


Obama spent several long minutes touting all the "wonderful" things this law has done and will continue to do, and then -- probably because he knows that the public utterly disdains his signature legislative acheivement -- he threw in some language about "improving" the law:

The highest Court in the land has now spoken. We will continue to implement this law. And we'll work together to improve on it where we can. But what we won’t do -- what the country can’t afford to do -- is refight the political battles of two years ago, or go back to the way things were.

With today’s announcement, it’s time for us to move forward -- to implement and, where necessary, improve on this law. And now is the time to keep our focus on the most urgent challenge of our time: putting people back to work, paying down our debt, and building an economy where people can have confidence that if they work hard, they can get ahead.

He's said nothing since about improving the law -- nor even mentioned areas where it would require tweaking -- and at the time of his remarks, I, at least, assumed this was a throwaway line aimed at appeasing the disgruntled masses. The fact is, he rather likes his law. (Indeed, as someone who openly favored a single payer system, he's probably not too upset that this law has the potential to collapse our whole system, thereby paving the way for a full government takeover of the health insurance sector. For it is, after all, important to recall that this is a battle over insurance, not care. But I digress, forgive the cynical speculation.)


Of course, the Democratic position presented in this poll won, 49% to 45% for the GOP position, but it's entirely unrealistic to read anything into that. Until Obama gets up and starts stumping for specific changes to the law, it's not a safe bet to assume that he's considering any. A vague comment about "improving" the law means nothing; a specific policy platform which acknowledges the law's shortcomings is, and we haven't seen -- and perhaps won't see -- anything like that.

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