With public and media attention focused on President Obama's Sept. 9 health care address to a joint session of Congress, Americans overwhelmingly cited the health care debate as their top story of the week. And when asked to evaluate the tone of the health care debate, a majority says it has been rude and disrespectful.
Fully 45% say the debate over health care reform was the story they followed most closely last week, far more than cite reports about swine flu (16%) or the condition of the U.S. economy (15%). Health care reform has been the dominant news story since late July, but it now has a 29-point advantage over the second most closely followed story, the widest margin measured by Pew Research Center surveys since the debate intensified early this summer. Health care reform also generated much more coverage than any other story last week.
Most Americans say the tone of the debate has been negative. According to the latest weekly News Interest Index survey, conducted September 11-14 among 1,003 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 53% say the tone of the debate over health care has been generally rude and disrespectful; 31% say it has been generally polite and respectful and 16% do not offer an opinion.
Among those who say the debate has been rude and disrespectful, most believe that opponents of the health care legislation under consideration are to blame. By a 59% to 17% margin, more blame opponents than supporters of the legislation; 17% volunteer that both groups are to blame.
There is disagreement between partisan groups when it comes to the tone of the debate, and – among those who say it has been rude – over who bears the blame for the negative tone. While a clear majority (65%) of Democrats say the debate has been rude and disrespectful, Republicans are more divided: 44% say it has been polite and respectful, while 40% say it has been rude and disrespectful. By a 53% to 31% margin, independents say the debate has been more rude than polite.
Read the full report Health Care Debate Seen as "Rude and Disrespectful" on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press' Web site.