Kate Steadman blogs at Healthy Policy, and she has an interesting bit up about health care polling based on a piece by Thomas Bodenheimer in Health Affairs:
It’s one thing for people to agree that they want universal insurance. It’s a whole other side of the beast when you ask how much they would be willing to pay. And herein lies part of would-be reformers’ problem. We rely too heavily on polls examining support for universal insurance. Past efforts suffered severely because, though people want universal insurance in theory, they’re unsure how much it means to them once it gets complicated.
I think Kate’s right about needing to poll on what people are willing to sacrifice for a particular policy, not just whether they like it in the abstract. But candidates aren’t usually elected on one specific position or policy idea, divorced from the rest of their positions and their charisma. If they please enough people with a bare minimum number of positions that it takes to get elected, then they’re in, and all they have to do is not alienate those people. They don’t necessarily have to do every thing that would please their constituents. (Also, I don’t know that they take poll results all that seriously when the polling data is shared by people who would make the same proposal even if the polling data didn’t favor it.)
After all, if people are really so supportive of universal health insurance, why don’t they elect candidates who support that model? I’ve seen advocacy organizations try to use polls as clubs when dealing with elected officials. “Polls show that our policy is popular, so you politicians should support it to make your constituents happy!” Then the politicians in question don’t support it, but they get re-elected anyway. So is there really a price to pay for “going against” your constituents? If not, then why should they listen to the polls?