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Jake Tapper, the host of ABC's This Week, asked Vice President Joe Biden in an interview aired Sunday July 18 if the Obama administration was getting enough credit for its accomplishments, and if not, why not.
Biden responded that it takes time for people to feel the effects of legislation. "For example," said Biden, "here you had the insurance industry spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make the health care bill out to be this godawful tragedy. Now what's starting to happen? The health care numbers are going up."
That made us wonder whether public opinion polls have shown a marked increase in approval of President Obama's health care reform bill since it was signed into law on March 23, 2010.
The problem with statistics and public opinion polls is that numbers can be cherry-picked to make just about any assertion. Looking at polling numbers in different ways paints a clearer picture, so that's what we did. And we found that there is no clear trend in approval, positive or negative, since the health care bill passed.
Our data primarily comes from Pollster.com's aggregation of polls measuring opinions towards the new health care bill. If you look closely, shortly after the bill passed there was a slight move upwards, followed by a move downwards, resulting in a negligible net change.
Within a week of passage, a USA Today/Gallup poll found that 47 percent of those polled thought the health care law was a "good thing." When they polled again in June, 49 percent responded favorably. While that marks a two percentage point increase, since the poll's margin of sampling error is four percent, the difference is statistically insignificant.
At the end of March, CBS News took a poll that found 32 percent approved of the new law. When the same question was asked in July, 36 percent approved. With a sampling error of three, this means a slight increase in those viewing it favorably. However, a Pew poll taken in early April and then again in July shows a five percent decrease, with a sampling error of four percentage points.
The three polls mentioned above come to three different conclusions, but they all share one thing in common-- the changes in opinion are very small when accounting for sampling error.
"I would say there is no clear trend," said Karlyn Bowman, a polling expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
"The healthcare reform legislation Congress passed in late March divided the public then and has not gained support in the three months since," read a report published by Gallup in late June.
If you look over the last six months and use live interviewer polls, which are usually considered more reliable, as opposed to just looking at polls since March when the bill passed, then you can see a small trend upward, according to Charles Franklin, co-founder of Pollster.com. However, Franklin agrees that using the time around the bill was signed into law is "an obvious point of comparison." Franklin added that the lack of polling over the last three months makes it difficult to accurately detect trends using Pollster.com data.
Since the poll results reflect no clear trend up or down in the public's view of the health care bill since its passage in March, we rate his statement Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
ABC, This Week, July 18, 2010.
Email Interview with Karlyn Bowman, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, July 19, 2010.
Interview with Charles Franklin, co-founder of Pollster.com and professor of Political Science at University of Wisconsin, Madison, July 20, 2010.
Pollster.com, "Health Care Plan: Favor/Oppose."
Pollster.com, "National Job Approval: Pres. Barack Obama - Health Care."
Lydia Saad, "Verdict on Healthcare Reform Bill Still Divided," Gallup, June 22, 2010.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear, "Obama Signs Health Care Overhaul Bill, With a Flourish," New York Times, March 23, 2010.
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