NEW CLARABRIDGE/HARRIS POLL USES TWO SOURCES OF PUBLIC OPINION TO GAIN A DEEPER PERSPECTIVE ON ONE OF TODAY’S MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES

December 16, 2009 00:00 AM

While there are many polls being taken to explore Americans’ views towards President Obama’s health care reform initiative, Harris Interactive is combining new text analytics software from Clarabridge with its popular Harris Poll to gauge the pulse of opinions in two ways: opinions posted on social media and other online sites and public opinion as measured through survey research. This month, the Clarabridge/Harris Poll found through social media analysis that Americans expect health care reform to pass by a 4-to-1 margin, while a public opinion poll shows a 2-to-one1 margin believing that reform will pass by the end of next summer. Furthermore a 65% to 35% majority of online postings that express an opinion on health care reform are supportive of it, compared to survey research that is equally split 40% to 41%.

Research results suggest that the month of August, during the height of the town-hall debates, marked a turning point in the public debate around the health care issue. Social media chatter jumped 75% to 79,342 postings in August before leveling off in September. August also saw a cross-over in social media opinions around likelihood of passage – prior to August more postings indicated health care reform was not likely to pass, while after August more indicated a likelihood of passage. This trend accelerated from October to November with 79% of such postings suggesting that reform will pass as compared to 69% in the traditional survey.

Highlighting the differences of opinion between survey research and online traffic, public support for health care reform has declined steadily since August according to the survey data, while social media analysis shows an increasing level of support for healthcare reform over the same period.

The sentiment in online postings related to the highly contested public option was consistently negative for the past six months. Now it has gone down 6.4% since July.

Health Care Reform: Public Opinion through Survey Research

In August, when members of Congress participated in lively town hall meetings in their home districts, public support for reform outweighed opposition (49% vs. 40%) for President Obama’s proposals for health care reform according to the Harris Poll. Today, as in October when equal percentages (45%) of Americans supported and opposed his proposals, the nation remains divided (40% vs. 41%). One change that is quite striking involves those Americans who say they are unsure about the issue. In August, September and October, one in ten Americans were unsure (11%, 10% and 11% respectively). Today, the number stands at 18%.

Specific aspects of President Obama’s proposals engender substantial concern, however. For instance, nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) agree that the proposed reforms would result in higher taxes while more than half (54%) agree that health insurance would be too expensive for people to buy if the proposals are passed.

No matter how people may feel about the costs of reform and related issues, it does seem clear that the public expects that health care reform, in some shape or form, will pass. The real question is when, with survey data suggesting that less than one-quarter of Americans (23%) believe it will pass by the end of this year, almost three in five (58%) by next spring, and seven in ten (69%) by the end of next summer.

Health Care Reform – Social Media Analysis

Social media analysis, which collects, integrates and analyzes global content across all platforms in conjunction with analysis of traditional feedback sources, largely tells a similar story, with two comments—one pro, one con– summing up the divergent views of Americans toward health care reform:

Pro: “The truth? We need health care reform now in order to prevent bankruptcy – to control spiraling costs that affect individuals, families, small businesses, and the American economy.”

Con: “If Obamacare is passed my dog will have better medical insurance and services then me.”

Comments in support of reform derived through social media analysis have exceeded those in opposition for five of the past six months, the lone exception being August, the month when town hall meetings were taking place across America and when the overall number of monthly comments peaked.

Comments suggesting that reform will lead to higher taxes outnumbered those indicating that reform will lower taxes during each of the six months. At the same time, however, comments suggesting that reform will lead to lower costs exceeded those indicating that it will raise costs. One possible interpretation is that the information, on balance, suggests that health care reform will lead to higher taxes but lower costs for individual services, as in nearly every other wealthy, industrialized country.

And do comments suggest that health care reform will pass? In August, September, October and November, the gap between comments suggesting it will pass and those suggesting it will not grew steadily—the gap is wider now than at any time in the past six months. The simple answer is yes.

Integrating Market Research and Social Media Analysis

Because social media sites have become commonplace for expressing public opinion, gathering and analyzing data from them now plays a strong role in supplementing traditional market research and in determining a more in-depth view of public opinion and how it is formed and influenced. The results of the Clarabridge/Harris Poll mark the first of a partnership combining the expertise of Harris Interactive, a leading custom market research firm, and Clarabridge, the leader in text mining technology.

“Opinions that people express on sites such as Twitter, on mainstream media sites or other message boards, and on social networking sites, are fast becoming both an influence on, and a source of, public opinion,” stated George Terhanian, President Global Solutions, Harris Interactive. “The Harris Poll, one of the longest-running and most innovative barometers of public opinion in the world, is now measuring these new sources of opinion. This marks our first attempt in the public eye.”

Text analytics enables market research firms like Harris Interactive to provide their clients with a much richer 360 degree perspective on the companies, products, services, and issues they are researching,” said Justin Langseth, president and CTO of Clarabridge. “In social media conversations, it is estimated that about 80 percent of the data is non-opinion conversational data but the other 20 percent includes real opinions. Text analytics is able to separate this out and accurately quantify the positive versus negative comments on the important topics of the day.”

This Clarabridge/Harris Poll® surveyed 2,475 adults online between November 19 and 23, 2009 by Harris Interactive and analyzed 239,644 documents representing nearly all of the social media mentions and online postings taken from various sources on the Internet between June 1, 2009 and November 30, 2009, via Clarabridge’s text mining solution.

TABLE 1 (HARRIS POLL): SUPPORT OR OPPOSE OBAMA’S REFORM PROPOSALS

“Even if you don’t know the details of his plan, how do you feel about President Obama’s proposals for health care reforms?”

Base: All Adults

Jan. July August Sept Oct. Nov.
% % % % % %
Support (NET) 50 42 49 49 45 40
Support strongly 25 20 24 26 23 23
Support somewhat 26 21 25 23 22 17
Oppose (NET) 20 38 40 41 45 41
Oppose somewhat 9 12 11 13 14 10
Oppose strongly 12 27 29 29 31 31
Not sure 29 20 11 10 11 18

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

TABLE 2 (HARRIS POLL): LIKELIHOOD OF HEALTH CARE REFORM BEING PASSED

“Thinking about the health care debate currently underway in Washington, how likely do you think it is that health care reform will be passed by Congress and signed into law…?”

Base: All U.S. adults

By end of 2009 By next Spring By end of next summer
Sept Oct. Nov. Sept Oct. Nov. Sept Oct. Nov.
% % % % % % % % %
LIKELY (NET) 29 27 23 51 53 58 64 66 69
Very likely 8 7 4 13 14 13 27 28
Somewhat likely 22 20 19 38 39 45 38 39 41
NOT LIKELY (NET) 71 73 77 49 47 42 36 34 31
Not that likely 36 27 34 32 29 27 19 17 16
Not at all likely 34 45 43 17 18 15 17 17 15

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 3 (HARRIS POLL): DISAGREE WITH SPECIFIC CRITICISMS OF THE PRESIDENT’S PROPOSALS

“These are some of the criticisms that have been made of the president’s health care proposals. Please say for each how strongly you agree or disagree with each.”

Base: All Adults

Strongly Agree
Somewhat Agree
Somewhat
Disagree
Strongly Disagree
Not
Sure
Totals
AGREE
DISAGREE
The proposed reforms would result in higher taxes
%
41
22
9
9
18
64
18
We should reduce the cost of health care before trying to provide insurance for people who don’t have it
%
38
25
10
13
14
63
23
Health insurance would be too expensive for many people to buy
%
32
23
14
15
17
54
29
The proposed reforms would create panels that would decide who should live and who should die
%
19
14
10
37
20
33
47

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

TABLE 4: AGREEMENT WITH CRITICISMS (HARRIS POLL)

“These are some of the criticism that have been made of the president’s health care proposals. Please say for each how strongly you agree or disagree with each.”

Percent saying “Strongly/Somewhat agree”

Base: All Adults

Oct.
Nov.
%
%
We should reduce the cost of health care before trying to provide insurance for people who don’t have it
68
63
The proposed reforms would result in higher taxes
67
64
Health insurance would be too expensive for many people to buy
52
54
The proposed reforms would create panels that would decide who should live and who should die
37
33

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

TABLE 5 (HARRIS POLL): ATTITUDES TO PROPOSALS OF OBAMA, CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS

“Based on what you’re read, seen or heard, how would you rate the health care plans proposed by each of the following?”

Base: All adults

President
Obama
Democrats in
Congress
Republicans in
Congress
Aug.
Nov.
Aug.
Nov.
Aug.
Nov.
%
%
%
%
%
%
GOOD (NET)
54
50
46
45
31
33
Very good
19
14
6
6
2
3
Somewhat good
35
36
40
40
29
30
BAD (NET)
46
50
54
55
69
67
Somewhat bad
17
18
26
24
42
37
Very bad
29
32
28
31
27
30

Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

TABLE 6: SOCIAL MEDIA: VOLUME OF POSTINGS OVER TIME

June
July
Aug.
Sept.
Oct.
Nov.
Volume of Responses
22,308
45,366
79,342
34,968
32,250
32,382

TABLE 7: SOCIAL MEDIA SENTIMENT INDEX ON PUBLIC OPTION

June
July
Aug.
Sept.
Oct.
Nov.
Overall sentiment on public option
.47
.47
.46
.46
.46
.44

Note: sentiment index is on a scale of 0 to 1 with 0 being the most negative and 1 being the best sentiment. Clarabridge’s advanced sentiment engine adjusts for nuances of language by taking into account factors such as negation, conditional sentiment, and combinations of words that express sentiment

TABLE 8: SOCIAL MEDIA OPPOSITION AND SUPPORT OF HEALTHCARE REFORM OVER TIME

June
July
Aug.
Sept.
Oct.
Nov.
Total
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
Opposition to health care reform
36
49
53
46
39
35
47
Support for health care reform
64
51
47
54
61
65
53

Note: Percentage is of total opposition or support of healthcare reform that month

TABLE 9: SOCIAL MEDIA LIKELIHOOD OF HEALTHCARE REFORM PASSING OVER TIME

June
July
Aug.
Sept.
Oct.
Nov.
Total
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
Reform is Likely to Pass
32
42
51
58
63
79
60
Reform is not Likely to Pass
68
58
49
42
37
21
40

Note: Percentage is of total conversation about likelihood of healthcare reform passage that month

TABLE 10: SOCIAL MEDIA CHANGE IN COSTS FROM HEALTHCARE REFORM OVER TIME

June
July
Aug.
Sept.
Oct.
Nov.
Total
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
Reform will Raise Costs
27
29
26
33
31
29
29
Reform will Lower Costs
73
71
74
67
69
71
71

Note: Percentage is of total conversation about changes in costs from healthcare reform that month

TABLE 11 SOCIAL MEDIA HEALTHCARE REFORM’S IMPACT ON TAXES OVER TIME

June
July
Aug.
Sept.
Oct.
Nov.
Total
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
Reform will Raise Taxes
99
99
99
98
99
99
99
Reform will Lower Taxes
1
1
1
2
1
1
1

Note: Percentage is of healthcare reform’s impact on taxes that month

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States November 19 and 23, 2009 among 2,475 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

The Clarabridge analysis was done by analyzing the entire population of social media postings from between June 1 and November 30, 2009. Clarabridge initially gathered healthcare reform relevant data by finding content that mentioned: “healthcare reform”, “health care reform”, and “obamacare”. Clarabridge then applied its advanced natural language processing, classification, sentiment scoring, and analysis engines to reduce the set to 239,644 relevant documents, classify them appropriately, and extract sentiment. Documents analyzed include many media sources including blogs, microblogs (including Twitter), message boards, forums, social networking sites, video/photo sharing sites and wiki sites.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The Harris Poll ® #140, December 15, 2009

By George Terhanian, President, Global Solutions and Regina A. Corso, Director, The Harris Poll

About Clarabridge

Clarabridge is the leading provider of sentiment and text analytics software for customer experience management. Clarabridge provides Global 1000 enterprises with universal views of their customers through automatic collection, classification, sentiment analysis, and reporting on text-based verbatims found in voice of the customer feedback channels. The result is improved marketing, product/service offerings, operations and customer service. Clarabridge customers include AOL, B/E Aerospace, Capital One, Choice Hotels, Expedia, Gaylord Hotels, H&R Block, Intuit, Marriott International, Nissan, QVC, Inc., Sage North America, United Airlines, Walmart, Walgreens, and Wendys International. Clarabridge is privately held with headquarters in Reston, Va. For more information, visit www.clarabridge.com.

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