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About that ACA 'repeal' poll...

Do most Americans support scrapping the Affordable Care Act? The way a pollster words the questions can lead to funny results.
File Photo: Flanked by conservative lawmakers, Ken Hoagland, chairman of the Repeal It campaign, center, criticizes President Obama's national heath care plan, often called \"Obamacare,\" Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, during a news conference on...
File Photo: Flanked by conservative lawmakers, Ken Hoagland, chairman of the Repeal It campaign, center, criticizes President Obama's national heath...
The conservative Weekly Standard ran a piece yesterday with a headline that featured unexpected news: "60 Percent of Voters Want Obamacare to Be Repealed." Since literally every independent national poll conducted this year shows most Americans don't support a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, it seemed likely something was amiss.
And there was.
On the surface, it's understandable that Republicans would find results like these encouraging.

A new poll finds that three-fifths of likely voters support the repeal of Obamacare. A large plurality -- 44 percent -- wants to see Obamacare repealed and replaced with a conservative alternative. A much smaller group --16 percent -- wants to see it repealed but not replaced. [...] Repeal and replace was chosen by a plurality of every age group, every income group aside from those making over $150,000, and both sexes.

And at first blush, some might see this as great news for the right. After dozens of polls showing mainstream opposition to repeal, here's a survey that finally tells conservatives what they want to hear -- even as the Affordable Care Act's successes become more obvious to more people.
What's more, the poll wasn't conducted by some obscure, fly-by-night operation; it was done by McLaughlin & Associates, a major Republican pollster.
So what's the catch? Take a look at the amazing way in which the poll worded the questions.
From the actual polling memo published by McLaughlin & Associates:

"Would you support or oppose repealing and replacing Obamacare with a conservative alternative that would save $1 trillion, reduce premiums, enhance access to doctors, and increase the number of people with private insurance by 6 million, but would cover 6 million fewer people overall because fewer people would be on Medicaid?"

Joan McCarter joked: "And everybody gets a pony, too!"
The pollster presented respondents with a bizarre scenario, describing an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that doesn't exist. The question isn't why most respondents endorsed the plan; the question is why this wording didn't produce results above 60%.
Kaiser Health Tracking Poll asks the same kind of question this way. "Which would you rather see your representative in Congress do when it comes to the health care law? Work to improve the law? Work to repeal the law and replace it with something else?"
And when it's asked in this more neutral way, 60% of the public opposes repeal.
That said, at the top of the McLaughlin & Associates memo, it said there's "overwhelming" public support for "a well-conceived conservative alternative to Obamacare." I'm skeptical, but if congressional Republicans, who've been promising a well-conceived conservative alternative to Obamacare for about five years now, want to unveil a GOP health care reform plan, the public can take a closer look and we'll see just how "overwhelming" the support for it really is.