Too many public opinion polls ask a simple question, like “Would you like to have lower taxes?” or “Would you like for government to provide better services?” The answers to those things are going to be overwhelmingly positive. We all want the highest value at the lowest price, both in our economic decisions and in our government.

Polls about healthcare policy often suffer from the same shortcoming. Would you like the government to take action to lower drug prices? Sure! But the devil is always in the details. What action? And more importantly, what are the tradeoffs (pros and cons) of various actions the government might take?

Well, thank goodness for meaningful public opinion research. A new Politico-Harvard poll shows that support for government action on drug prices falls dramatically when the public has to weigh the potential negatives. From Politico:

For instance, 90 percent of respondents supported Medicare negotiations with drug-makers — but that fell to just 42 percent when respondents weighed the risk that some pharmaceutical companies might respond by halting the sale of certain drugs to seniors.

"This only suggests that this is a tempting issue for political people in both parties because it's so popular," said Harvard's Robert Blendon, who designed the poll. "They're going to find it much more controversial if they can't answer the question of how you protect consumers from the potential downside."

As I explain in IWF’s policy focus on pharmaceutical drug prices, government action to lower drug costs is a risky business. The best approach is to foster greater consumer choice in drugs (and other healthcare goods and services) in order to use market competition to hold down prices.