How much does "process" matter to the public?

Voters care about substance, not insider geek jargon like "reconciliation" and "filibuster"


Joshua Tucker
March 16, 2010 7:17PM (UTC)

The Monkey Cage has gone on record recently arguing that process in the health care reform debate is ultimately not going to matter that much (see Henry and John) in terms of driving support for the bill. Well, now we can quantify "not much".

According to a Gallup report published last month, 42 percent of respondents supported "passing a healthcare bill similar to the one proposed by President Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate," while 49 percent opposed passing such a bill. However, when asked again if they supported passing such a bill if it involved the use of a parliamentary procedure to override a Republican filibuster, the numbers changed to 39 percent in support and 52 percent opposing; in both cases 9 percent said that they didn't know.

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 As a political scientist, I was less interested in the overall support levels (which apparently have already shifted a bit in favor of passing reforms since these polls were taken), but rather in the difference between the two graphs.* According to Gallup, respondents were first asked if they favored passing the health care bill, and then asked if they favored passing it using reconcilliation. The "process" in this case apparently cost about 3 percent points of support. So it is not irrelevant, but hardly a game changer in terms of public opinion.

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*Slightly more wonkish technical discussion: It should be noted that Gallup did not use a true experimental design here, with half of the respondents being randomly assigned to receive one version of the question and the other half the other. So it is possible that a desire to remain consistent might bias respondents towards giving the same answer to both questions. On the other hand, it may also be possible that the fact that the question about reconciliation was asked second may have been cuing respondents that there was something “different” about reconciliation, and, given the media’s fascination with the issue, that perhaps this was supposed to change their opinion. Personally, I find in interesting that the number of "don’t knows" didn’t change. This suggests that reconciliation is not really having any affect on people who don’t already have an opinion on health care, although of course it is possible that reconciliation pushed some supporters into don’t knows and don’t knows into opposing, although my gut instinct is that this is not likely to be the case. For those interested in Don’t Know responses, see Adam Berinsky’s Silent Voices.

Joshua A. Tucker is Associate Professor of Politics at New York University and a Truman National Security Fellow. The original version of this post appears on the Monkey Cage.


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