Dear Wonkblog: Check Your Numbers
July 21, 2015

Although the Washington Post daily Wonkbook (led by Max Ehrenfreund now that Young Ezra is gone) is supposed to provide a quick guide to the policy issues of the day, I frequently only scan it -- because, ironically enough, I'm too busy to dive into the data and don't like to take their word for it.

But today I saw this piece where they quoted Claire McCaskill's statements on why Bernie Sanders "can't appeal" to enough voters, and they added some links to support her statements:

A few weeks ago, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) gave three reasons why her colleague Bernie Sanders couldn't appeal to a broad group of voters, asThe Atlantic's Peter Beinart recounted.

She told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that Sanders wanted a single-payer system in insurance and more generous entitlements and that he opposed free trade. Polls suggest that support for a single-payer system is limited to liberals, and while polls on expanding Social Security suggest the idea could win the support of a large majority, most Americans think that free trade has been good for the country.

First of all, I'm from Philly, where the Pew Charitable Foundations (Pew did the polling) is based. I've known people who worked for Pew, a foundation started by Sun Oil and which has a ton of money; I'm not quite sure I trust Pew. When I read their polls, I frequently shake my damn head.

Polls suggest that support for a single-payer system is limited to liberals.

Really? But what does the poll actually say? I was suspicious, because the polls used to attack Obamacare were fairly consistent: around 30% of the people who opposed it were angry that it didn't go far enough. So these Pew numbers smelled off.

...Roughly half – 54% – think health insurance “should be provided through a single national health insurance system run by the government.”

...Those who believe the government does have a responsibility to ensure health coverage were asked if health insurance should be provided through a mix of private insurance companies and the government, or if the government alone should provide insurance. The single-payer option was supported by 21%, while about as many (23%) favor a mix of public and private insurance.

It's all in the wording, as it is with any poll. See how they muddied the water by offering a combo platter? We can always read the analysis of the Progressive Change Campaign polling of likely 2016 voters done by Physicians for A National Health Plan and find a completely different conclusion:

This poll shows that the nation’s attitude towards single payer remains essentially unchanged. About four-fifths of Democrats support single payer, three-fifths of Republicans are opposed, and Independents remain evenly split. But what about the attitude towards the “public option” – allowing all Americans the choice of purchasing Medicare instead of private insurance?

Support for the option of a Medicare buy-in is strong across the political spectrum.

Then there's the other sticking point in this story:

Most Americans think free trade has been good for the country.

Um, not so much. Even Pew's own numbers show that the impact of trade agreements (which is what I call them, since there's no such animal as "free trade") is rather starkly split along class and economic lines.

Overall, somewhat more say their family’s finances have been helped (43%) than hurt (36%) by free trade agreements. Among those with family incomes of $100,000 or more, far more feel they have been helped (52%) than hurt (29%) financially. But among those in the lowest income group (less than $30,000), 38% say their finances have benefited from free trade agreements, while 44% say they have been hurt.

It sounds like rich people do like trade agreements -- probably because they have enough discretionary income to buy stocks. The rest of us? Not that much.

So my conclusion is, Claire McCaskill is full of centrist crap, that Bernie Sanders absolutely has strong support on these issues, and that maybe reading Wonkblog isn't as helpful as people think.

Now, I of all people can appreciate how easy it is to make mistakes -- but then, I don't work at a union job with paid staff, and maybe Wonkblog could be a little more careful with this kind of thing.

Can you help us out?

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