The art of polling is similar to almost any effort where interpretation is required: Context is important.
The Reason-Rupe pollsters seem to get this. Their recent survey covers not only a lot of ground (the president’s job performance, possible candidates in the upcoming elections, health care, morality and war) but goes into some depth on a number of the issues covered. For instance, each of Obama’s major challengers is put in the context of several competitive scenarios — Obama vs. Romney, Obama vs. Santorum (the poll was conducted before Santorum dropping out), Obama vs. Gingrich, Obama vs. Paul, etc.— with even possible third-party runs brought in. All very interesting.
The biggest section of the poll concerned health care. These questions also probed alternatives, eliciting opinions explicitly in the context of possible options and outcomes. But the results regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities were especially provocative. Nearly half of Americans tend to favor military action against the country were we to discover that the Iranian government was developing nuclear weaponry. But, when the conflict was considered as a long, dragged-out affair — of the same variety as happened in Iraq — support dwindled, and the numbers opposed to intervention went well over half.
Not shocking. Costs matter. Context matters.
The most amusing element of context in the poll emerged in one pair of questions regarding Obamacare. Is the federal requirement to carry medical insurance unconstitutional? Over 60 percent said yes. But switch that mandate to requiring Americans to buy broccoli and other healthy foods, and those crying “unconstitutional” shot up to 87 percent.
Now that’s Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.