The Kaiser Family Foundation is conducting a series of polls on how health care issues is impacting the 2008 presidential election. Their first poll was in March and the most recent in October. From the very beginning, health care was identified by respondents as the most important domestic issue, and the second most important issue overall, respondents want the new president and Congress to address. (The number one issue is Iraq.)
The Kaiser Foundation keeps tweaking the wording of their question which makes it challenging to compare some of the results over time. However, regardless of how they ask the question, health care reform ranks higher than the economy, immigration, and education, to name just a few additional hot button issues. And it holds this distinction among Democrats, Republicans and Independents. In other words, health care reform is an equal opportunity hot button.
Consider the latest poll. The question was “What do you think is the most important problem for the president and congress to address?” The results were:
1. Iraq (54%)
2. Health care (29%)
3. Economy (16%)
4. Immigration (12%)
5. Frustration with government (6%)
6. Terrorism (5%)
The top four issues were identical among Republicans, Democrats and Independents, although the percentages changed a bit. For example, Health care was the top issue for 22 percent of Republicans, 36 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of Independents. (Republicans were a bit more concerned about terrorism and Democrats with education.)
Interestingly, the top four issues haven’t changed since the tracking surveys started in March. However, since June, health care has become an increasingly more common response. The surveys asked respondents what “two issues would you most like to hear the presidential candidates talk about.” 21 perecent said health care in June. 30 percent listed health care in August 30 and by October the percentage mentioning health care had risen to 38 percent. To put it in perspective, in the October survey, 44 percent mentioned Iraq. Health care reform is still the number two issue in the campaign, but it’s an increasingly important number two.
This isn’t surprising. As I noted in previous posts on California public opinion polls (August post, September post), voters are constantly and consistently hearing that the health care system is broken. They can’t escape the publicity surrounding the film Sicko or ignore the news surrounding health insurer’s behavior. Given this drumbeat, public opinion can’t help but be swayed.
Within health care issue, two issues emerge: the cost of care and the uninsured. The saliency of these sub-issues varies by political party. Republicans, by more than a two-to-one margin, want presidential candidates to talk about “reducing the costs of health care and health insurance” rather than “expanding health insurance coverage for the uninsured.” Democrats are nearly equally split on the two issues: 41 percent want to hear about coverage; 38 percent want to hear about costs. While Independents want to hear about costs (39 percent) a bit more frequently than about coverage (30%). For all groups, “improving the quality of care and reducing medical errors” was the third most mentioned issue followed by “reducing spending on government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.” Only seven percent of all respondents mentioned this last issue.
The tracking polls contain more nuggets of information and I’ll be reporting on them as they’re published. The biggest takeaway for now is that the issues of importance in the 2008 election are solidifying, but they’re not locked in stone. Outside events could change what voters care about. And who is nominated will influence the issues as well. However, regardless of what happens, health care reform will be among the issues that matter when voters cast their ballots. Which means it will be on the agenda of both Congress and the new president come 2009.