Health Care Still Vital Issue in 2008 Campaign

The Kaiser Family Foundation has been issuing quarterly tracking polls on the issues voters want presidential candidates to address. Health care has been the top domestic issue voters are focused on (Iraq has been the top issue). But now that the mortgage crisis, gas prices and a faltering stock market has had more time to impact family’s sense of financial security, the economy has taken on greater importance to voters.

In the March 2008 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll 45 percent of the voters listed the economy as one of the two issues they would most like to hear presidential candidates talk about. 32 percent of the voters listed Iraq and 28 percent mentioned health care. Immigration followed with 14 percent, education with seven percent and terrorism six percent.

The economy topped the list for Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike. For Democrats, however, health care was the second most mentioned issue followed by Iraq.

In the Kaiser poll published in December 2007, Iraq was the top issue, mentioned by 35 percent of those surveyed, followed by health care mentioned by 30 percent and then the economy, cited by 21 percent of the participants. Democrats, Republicans and Independents all ranked the top three issue in this order.

When asked what single issue will most drive their choice for the next president, the economy was at the top of the list for all voters, Democrats, Republicans and Independents. For Democrats and Independents, the next two issues were Iraq and health care; for GOP voters it was terrorism and Iraq.

In March, the top issue for all voters was Iraq, followed by the economy and health care for Republicans and Independents, while Democrats selected health care and the economy as their next two most important issues.

While the economy has supplanted health care as the top domestic issue among voters, health care is still a powerful issue. However, health care costs are a factor in how people feel about the economy. 10 percent of voters cited health care costs as the single most important economic issue facing you and your family. This trailed inflation (26 percent), high taxes (13 percent), and the price of gasoline (11 percent), but it was higher than items like problems getting a good-paying job or a raise in pay (nine percent) and the cost of housing (six percent).

Health care reform remains a critical issue, especially among Democrats and Independents. When evaluating health care reform proposals, 58 percent of what the Kaiser Foundation calls “health-focused voters” want to provide health insurance for nearly all of the uninsured, even if it involves a substantial increase in spending. 30 percent support a more limited plan that would cover only some of the uninsured, but involve less spending.

In 1992, the sign in the Clinton campaign war room read “It’s the economy, stupid.” What’s less well known is the addendum to the sign that read, “And it’s health care, too.” History looks like it’s repeating itself (although this time it may not be a Clinton war room). While Iraq will remain a critical issue, the economy and health care are even more relevant to voters’ decisions. That could change, but barring a terrorist attack on American soil, the voters are increasingly focused on the economy and remain strongly interested in the candidate’s positions on health care.

In other words, future debates will sound a lot like the recent debates.