In a new survey, more than half of self-identified Republicans said they didn’t think the Affordable Care Act is increasing the number of people with health insurance, with a fifth of respondents saying it has actually reduced the number of people with coverage.
For the record, evidence from numerous sources clearly proves these people are flat-out wrong.
The new poll is from YouGov.com and, like some other recent surveys, the results suggest perceptions of the law are becoming more favorable. The evolution is slow and, even now, “Obamacare” has lots of skeptics, mostly among Republicans. The YouGov survey asked, among other things, whether respondents think the health care law is “more of a success” or “more of a failure.” Forty-percent chose failure, while 30 percent chose success.
But the most revealing part of the YouGov poll was a more specific question about how people perceive the Affordable Care Act’s performance — specifically, whether respondents think the number of people with insurance has increased, remained the same, or fallen over the last 12 months.
The question is revealing because it broke out response by partisan identification. Among Democrats, 77 percent said the number of people with insurance had risen, while just 9 percent said it had decreased. But among Republicans, just 43 percent thought the number of people with insurance had increased, while 21 percent said it had decreased.
To put it another way, less than half of Republicans think the number of uninsured is coming down, while one in five think it is going up. That’s in stark contrast to the evidence, which clearly tells a different story: Every major study — including official estimates by the federal government and analyses by independent researchers — has shown that the number of people with health insurance has risen substantially since the Affordable Care Act took full effect.
While experts disagree over the precise magnitude of the increase in insured Americans, they don’t question its existence — except at highly partisan, right-wing think tanks and on a certain cable television network. As Media Matters points out, “Fox News has consistently downplayed and twisted Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers, going as far as to skew on-air graphics to misleadingly suggest less Americans were signing up for insurance through the health care law than had been originally projected.”
Given this skewed coverage, it makes sense that so many Republicans — who make up the vast majority of Fox viewership — are out of touch with the reality of health care reform. And the misconceptions about Obamacare extend beyond enrollment: According to a 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation survey, Fox News viewers have a poorer understanding of the Affordable Care Act and are more likely to believe in falsehoods about the law. For example, despite being conclusively debunked as Politifact’s “lie of the year” in 2009, a quarter of Republicans still believe in the existence of Obamacare “death panels” — a myth that was widely circulated by Fox News.
Of course, none of this should come as a great surprise to anyone — after all, past research has shown that Fox News viewers are less informed about current events than people who don’t watch any news at all. This extends to a range of topics such as climate change, foreign policy, and civil liberties, and is thought to reflect not only the skewed coverage on Fox, but also viewership trends. Compared to those who watch other TV news networks, Fox News viewers are far less likely to get their news from multiple sources; instead, they rely only on Fox for all of their information, creating an echo-chamber for misinformation.
All of this helps to explain the new findings from YouGov. It’s likely that general negative perceptions of the Affordable Care Act are affecting the way some people — namely, Republicans — assess its performance, rather than than the other way around. In other words, when some conservative respondents hear a pollster ask questions about whether the health care law is helping people to get insurance, they may simply think about Obamacare and everything they hate about it — and instinctively give a negative response. This is the result of an amalgamation of numerous unconscious cognitive biases, including confirmation and distinction biases, which describe the tendency to seek out only that information that supports one’s preconceptions (and discount information that doesn’t) and the tendency to allow irrelevant information to influence judgment, respectively.
What this means is that these self-identified Republicans aren’t denying reality so much as refusing to even think about it. Either way, it suggests some people will never support the Affordable Care Act, no matter how many people it helps or how many lives it saves.