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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

– A new poll from the New York Times reports that 72 percent of the public likes the “public option” on health care. This poll is broadly in line with the consensus of previous polling on the subject, although as we warned you yesterday, some of the polling on the public option is a bit schlocky.

The Times’ poll’s question wording seems quite informative and fair: “Would you favor or oppose the government’s offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans?”. Note the use (twice!) of the term “government”, which is less ambiguous and less favorable than the term “public” — although the insertion of the phrase “like Medicare” probably puts the public option in a somewhat more favorable light.

The NYT’s polls have a reputation for having somewhat left-leaning demographics. This is not entirely undeserved — their samples generally contain somewhat more Democrats and somewhat fewer Republicans than the consensus. (EDIT: Although this particular poll at a 10-point D-R gap, which is pretty typical these days). Nevertheless, even 50 percent of Republicans favored the public option in this poll. If you re-weighted the demographics to put more Republicans in the sample, the public option would still be extremely popular.

The bottom line is that the health care debate is not really being played out in the court of public opinion. If it were, Congress would pass a robust plan with a public option that was funded by raising taxes on cigarettes, booze, and people making over $250,000, and we’d live happily ever after (or not). Rather, this is a behind-the-scenes fight at the committee level, where certain senators who have ample financial incentives to please the insurance industry have a disproportionate amount of control over the process.

I’m generally not one to carp about special interest money — seeing politics through that lens is often an overly reductive formulation that serves as a catch-all excuse any time Congress does something you don’t like. But on something like the public option, which has broad public support and which would probably reduce — not increase — the long-run bill to the taxpayers, it is just about the only way to explain what’s going on in Washington.

– Two more Iran links for you. Bern Beber and Alexandra Scacco (who are former students of Andrew Gelman’s) have identified further oddities in the distribution of digits. And Daniel Berman (who generously provided provincial-level voting returns to us) along with Ali Ansari and Thomas Rintoul at the University of St. Andrews have a detailed and compelling look at the numbers. Among other things, the St. Andrews boys report that two provinces had greater than 100% turnout. The safest conclusion at this stage is probably that of Walter Mebane, a specialist in election fraud, who says he sees “moderately strong support for a diagnosis that the 2009 election was afflicted by significant fraud.”

– Finally, on a much lighter note, Katie Halper runs the numbers at Comedy Central and finds that Karl Rove and I are a surprisingly good love match. Dinner at The Grocery is on me, Karl.

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