Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Public Easily Swayed by Framing of Healthcare Debate

A fascinating poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that information and framing play a huge rule in support for and opposition to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). For example, support for the “individual mandate,” or requirement that all Americans buy health insurance is one of the least popular measures within the bill (only garnering 35 percent support). But when respondents learn that most Americans are already covered by employer-sponsored plans, that support swells to 62 percent. On the other hand, if the question is framed within the context of people being forced to purchase insurance “they find too expensive or don’t want,” the opposition rises from 64 to 79 percent. Not surprisingly, a year into the Act, a majority of Americans also are unaware of many of its provisions (particularly those who still don’t have insurance). As just two examples, nearly 40 percent of respondents believe it provides financial support for illegal immigrants to get insurance (it doesn’t) and more than 40 percent still believe in the absurdly-fictional “death panels.”

It is but the latest example of how a society that pays more attention to the lives of complete strangers than their representatives has allowed the country to be taken over by corporate and elite interests. Cynicism is a disease that eats at the very fabric of democracy, feeding on ignorance and a lack of hope. Many mistake this cynicism for apathy, claiming people just don’t care anymore. But I don’t believe that. I think what has happened instead is that people across the political spectrum have become so disillusioned by the sense that our democracy is broken that they largely or completely disengage from the process, only to act every two to four years based on limited and often flawed information. The first step in overcoming this pandemic of cynicism is to restore that hope and find ways to frame politics and difficult policy issues in ways that the public can understand and that can garner support. If progressives continue their snarky and elitist panning of all those that disagree with them instead, they are essentially serving the very forces they claim to oppose.

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