On Utterly Meaningless Polling (and a Reader Challenge!)

We put a lot of stock in public opinion polls. But when the issue at hand is as technical and wonky as health care, I'm struck by how little they actually mean.

Without a poll, I can tell you that most Americans think everyone should have access to decent health care at an affordable price. Beyond that, what value is there really in polling data based on people's opinions about really complicated proposals that few understand?

A case in point. Yesterday, WingNut Daily informed me that most Americans agree on some basic principles of health care reform, citing a poll Zogby conducted for the conservative O'Leary report.

Here's the question they asked to determine the principle on which there was the most agreement:

The first issue was the purchase of health insurance. Americans right now only may buy from a provider licensed in their state.

"Some say that Americans should be allowed to purchase health insurance from providers in different states possibly creating more competition and driving down the price of health insurance. Do you agree or disagree?" the poll asked.

More than 82 percent said they agreed, and only about 7 percent disagreed.

Sounds reasonable on its face -- were I not a big dork who spends entirely too much time reading up on policy when I should be chasing after the ladies, I'd probably answer "yes" to that one myself.

But consider what's really at issue ...


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