Source: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner
Client: Democracy Corps


Memo: Cost (PDF - 7 K)

Executive Summary

As the Congress moves to floor action on health care reform, we wanted to highlight some important language and narrative issues - both for producing more intense support and engagement and for moving swing-independent voters. This memo focuses on these voters’ reactions on the critical issue of paying for health care reform by evaluating our tests of key parts of President Obama’s joint session address on health care reform through the immediate dial reactions of 50 independent and swing voters in Denver, Colorado, the night of the address.

Key Findings

  • Not adding to the deficit provides critical starting reassurance. It is no secret that one of the strongest messages against reform is that it will raise taxes on the middle class and add more to the national deficit. The president begins his discussion on paying for reform by taking this attack head-on, unequivocally reassuring voters that this reform will not “add a single dime” to the deficit. Democrats, independents and Republican voters alike immediately respond favorably (their dial lines spiked). This portion of the speech did a lot to reassure voters that reform will neither mean higher taxes nor adding to the national deficit. Before the speech, 62 percent of voters thought that reform will “increase the deficit and raise taxes” while after the speech, only four-in-ten said the same.
  • The specifics of how to pay for reform get mixed reviews, but necessary. As we have observed in prior focus groups and surveys, it is imperative to explicitly tell voters how, if not through deficit spending or higher taxes, reform will be paid for, or they will automatically assume the worst. President Obama highlighted three main areas where revenue will be raised or wasteful spending cut to pay for this reform, with voters of different political stripes often reacting differently.
    • Cutting wasteful spending in Medicare receives tepid rating. As we have heard from the administration before, the president again highlighted that savings gained by eliminating wasteful spending in the Medicare program will help pay for reform. The dial ratings among Democratic and independent voters remain largely flat when they hear this while the dials of Republican voters immediately drop ten points to 40 on the 0 to 100 scale. As we have seen in previous research, voters find it hard to believe that the federal government will eliminate billions of dollars in wasteful spending from a government program and therefore give a lackluster response to this provision.
    • Tax on insurance companies gets strong response from Democrats. Reactions to a tax on insurance companies’ most expensive plans received reactions drawn almost entirely down partisan lines. Democratic voters were extremely receptive to the idea as their ratings of the president slowly rose to 73 when he explained this plan. The dials of independent voters hovered ten points lower near 60 while the more tax-sensitive Republican voters kept their dials just below the 50 percent mark, though one would have expected them to head sharply down.
    • Medical malpractice reform popular across party lines. The president’s pledge to move forward testing programs that can put “patients safety first while letting doctors get back to practicing medicine” is rated highly by all voters, especially Republicans, and resulted in the lines of Democratic and Republican voters alike moving upward in concert for one of the few times throughout the night
  • Mention of Bush administration rallies Democrats. Twice throughout his discussion on how this plan will be paid for, President Obama mentioned the Bush administration - once in reference to the deficit he inherited, and again in saying that this reform proposal costs less than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and less than the Bush tax cuts passed in 2001. Both times resulted in extremely partisan reactions with Democrats spiking to near 80 on their dials, Republicans dropping to the upper 30’s, and independents hovering almost exactly in the middle at 55 to 60 percent. These references engage partisan Democrats, though do not do much to move independents.

Click here to read our full analysis on the groups.

Click on the video link below to view this section of the speech:


On September 9, 2009, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Democracy Corps conducted “dial groups” or real-time focus group analysis of President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress on health care. The groups were comprised of swing voters in Denver, Colorado and were evenly divided among those who initially supported and initially opposed Obama’s health care plan, with an almost equal division between Obama and McCain voters. The testing consisted of two parts: First, participants were asked using a dial-meter to rank Obama’s speech in real-time, instantly gauging what he was saying on a 0 to 100 scale, with 0 being extremely negative and 100 being extremely positive. Second, participants rated Obama on a number of measures before and after the speech to see how the speech changed their opinions.