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Two Pictures Tell the Story on Health Care Debate

Gallup did something pretty cool in connection with their latest health care survey, which was to provide the verbatim responses (.xls) of the rationales given by people who would tell their Congressman to vote for or against the current health care bills, respectively.

I ran the responses through Wordle, a word-cloud generating tool, omitting certain words that were parts of speech or were otherwise nongermane.

Here are the words that were used most frequently by the 45 percent of the country who would tell their Congressman to vote for the health care bill:

And here are the words used most commonly by the 48 percent of the country who would tell their Congressman to vote against it:

In some sense, this is a very old-fashioned debate about the proper role of government. The message that the pro-reform voters have taken away comes through loudly and clearly: ‘PEOPLE … NEED … INSURANCE’, whereas concerns among the anti’s boil down to ‘GOVERNMENT’ and ‘COST’.

As I’ve argued before, some of the anti-health care sentiment may be based on a misunderstanding about what exactly the bill would do: its hardly a government takeover, leaving the private insurance industry largely intact although certainly enacting a number of important new regulations and restrictions. Nevertheless, it’s clear that anti-reform advocates have coyly tapped into a lot of fears about the role of government — fears which were probably buoyed by the extremely unpopular bailout and somewhat unpopular stimulus package.

On the pro-reform side, meanwhile, it’s been the moral arguments that seem to have broken through — words like ‘PEOPLE’, ‘NEED’, ‘EVERYONE’ and ‘EVERYBODY’ — along with a few hints of populist sentiment (‘COMPANIES’, ‘AFFORD’). Very few people have been persuaded by the discussions about bending the cost curve, on the other hand. Although the word ‘AFFORD’ is used more often by proponents of the legislation, terms like ‘COST’ and ‘MONEY’ are used far more often by those opposed to it.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.