October 15, 2009 / 11:29 PM / 10 years ago

Why Americans disagree about healthcare reform

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Using arguments about the social benefits of healthcare reform may galvanize Democrats but they leave Republicans cold, U.S. researchers reported on Thursday.

Politicians seeking support for new regulations and laws aimed at improving health may need to carefully frame their arguments for each audience, the researchers reported in the American Journal of Public Health.

They set up an experiment that showed Republicans and Democrats alike supported measures to reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes.

But the Republicans lost enthusiasm when the researchers presented arguments about how hard it is for people to exercise and eat right when streets have no sidewalks and fast-food restaurants abound, Sarah Gollust of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues found.

“If you are more liberally minded the ‘neighborhood explanation’ can be motivating, but for people who are more conservative politically, that message can backfire and make them even less interested,” said the University of Michigan’s Dr. Peter Ubel, who worked on the study.

“The same information can polarize people.”

Gollust, Ubel and colleagues designed an Internet study and asked more than 2,400 people a series of questions based on diabetes — an example of a public health problem that may need both political and medical solutions.

People describing themselves as Republican or conservative were far more likely to disagree with arguments that social determinants — such as the availability of junk food — were responsible for the epidemic of diabetes.

They found that 32 percent of Democrats agreed that social factors affected health, compared to 16 percent of Republicans. Both groups agreed equally with the role of genetics in diabetes.

“When people are given the same information they can come away with very different opinions,” Gollust said in a statement.

“Americans’ opinions about health policy are polarized on political partisan lines, with recent survey evidence demonstrating that Republicans and Democrats seemingly disagree on nearly every aspect of health care and approaches to reform,” the researchers wrote.

“Our experimental findings contribute to this evidence, showing that Democrats and Republicans also differ in the ways in which they receive and react to messages about the social determinants of health.”

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