Biased Study Claims Obamacare Opponents Are Dumb

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A new study of public beliefs about the health care reform law demonstrates that many Americans have false impressions about some of its provisions.

This won’t come as a shock to anyone who is familiar with the facts of widespread public ignorance and error. We’ve long known that the public substitutes distorted and simplistic stereotypes for knowledge of political facts. Seventy percent of the public doesn’t know the names of either of their state’s senators, for example. During the height of the Cold War, 62 percent of the US public didn’t realize the Soviet Union was not a member of NATO.

The study by the Kaiser foundation asked whether a series of 10 provisions were included in the law. Five of the items asked about are part of the law, while five of the items asked about are not part of the law. Overall, a quarter of those asked scored an impressive 7 to 10 right answers, with only 10 percent getting all 10 questions right. (See chart below)

The best results came for the provisions that are included in the law. Seventy-two percent knew that the law provides subsidies to low and moderate income Americans, 67 percent knew that the law prohibits denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, 65 percent knew that businesses providing health insurance coverage get tax breaks, and 64 percent knew that an individual mandate is included in the law.

Even in these results, you can see the stubbornness of ignorance and error in public beliefs. Nearly a quarter of the public actually believes that there is no individual mandate in the health care law. Another 11 percent just don’t know. A quarter are wrong about the ban on denying coverage for pre-existing coverage, while 9 percent don’t know. In other words, a good third of the country is either wrong or clueless about the two most widely discussed and hotly debated features of the law.

But the Kaiser study purports to show more than ignorance. It attempts to demonstrate that people who are opposed to the law are less likely to be familiar with what the law does or does not entail, while people who support the law are more likely to be well informed. Some samples:

  • Thirty-eight percent of people who think they’ll be better off under the law were correct on between 7 and 10 correct answers. Only 17 percent of those who think they will be worse off scored that high.
  • Democrats score higher—32 percent scoring 7-10—than Republicans—18 percent scoring between 7 and 10.
  • People who want to expand the law and people who would leave it alone score better than people who would repeal all or part of the law.

This will be taken as proof that opposition to the law is based, at least in part, on ignorance. And already some are saying it shows that the errors are the product of “politically driven bytes of misinformation.”The Kaiser foundation lends this view of things a handby noting that 39 percent MSBC viewers score seven or better, while only 25 percent of Fox News viewers score that high.

The Kaiser study, however, is badly flawed in a rather obvious way. The five false provisions it asked about are all things that would likely be taken as negatives by people who already disapprove of the law. Disliking something makes you more likely to believe negative things about it. For example, if you oppose the bill because of the costs imposed on business, you’re might have missed the nuance that some small businesses—those with under 50 employees—are exempt from the requirement to provide health coverage.

In other words, the five questions people were most likely to get wrong—those about provisions that aren’t in the law—were about provisions that those opposed to the law would also propose. Asking these questions guaranteed that the opponents of the law, Republicans, and people who feel they will be worse off under the law would get worse scores than their pro-Obamacare counterparts.

This skewing of the results is obvious from one category where Republicans score better than Democrats—the individual mandate. Seventy-three percent of Republicans knew that there is an individual mandate in the bill. Only sixty-three of Democrats knew that. In other words, opponents of the bill are more likely to believe that things they don’t like are included than supporters of the bill are.

The study could have asked about other faux-provisions. For instance, it could have asked if the law will allow people to keep their current health care plan if they like it. It doesn’t do that—many health care plans are being scrapped in favor of ones that tailored to fit the new regulations. It might have also asked about whether the plan would reduce health care costs for individuals or businesses—it doesn’t. The list of “false positive” questions could be multiplied endlessly.

The Kaiser study demonstrates public ignorance. But it also contributes to our ignorance, by asking questions in a way that bias the results to show greater ignorance among opponents of the law.


Provide subsidies to low and moderate income Americans True 72% 18% 10%
Prohibit insurers from denying coverage because of health status True 67% 25% 9%
Provide tax credits to small businesses that offer coverage to their employees True 65% 22% 13%
Individual mandate True 64% 24% 11%
Expand the exisiting Medicaid program to cover low-income, uninsured adults regardess of whether they have children True 62% 20% 18%
Allow a government panel to make decisionsabout end-of-life care for people on Medicare False 45% 40% 15%
Allowed undocumented immigrants to recieve financial help from the government to buy health insurance False 42% 41% 16%
Cut benefits that were previously provided to all people on Medicare False 40% 45% 15%
Create a new government run insurance plan to be offered along with private plans False 27% 59% 14%
Require all businesses, even the smallest ones, to provide health insurance for thier employees False 25% 65% 10%


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