By Paul Demko, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Sept. 10, 2014) — Healthcare doesn't appear to be weighing on voters' minds as the November elections approach, according to new polling data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Just 13 percent of respondents said healthcare was one of the top two issues that will shape how they vote, and only 3 percent cited the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a major factor.
By contrast, 21 percent of respondents cited jobs and the economy as a key factor in shaping their vote. Healthcare was clustered among the second tier of concerns: foreign policy/national defense (12 percent), dissatisfaction with the way government functions (12 percent), immigration (9 percent) and education (9 percent).
Charlie Cook, the founder of the Cook Political Report, indicated at a forum hosted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington to discuss the polling results that healthcare played a central role in 2010, when Republicans won control of the House. But there were several other issues, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and the federal stimulus package, Mr. Cook said, that also stoked anger among conservatives.
He argued that the federal healthcare law will be most prominent this year in contests where Democrats who voted for the law are facing re-election, such as Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
Republicans enjoy a modest enthusiasm advantage heading into the November elections, which could prove crucial in what's expected to be a low-turnout election in most states. More than a quarter of Republicans (27 percent) say they are “more enthusiastic” about voting this year than in the past, according to the survey. By comparison, only 20 percent of Democrats and 18 percent of independents expressed heightened enthusiasm about turning out to vote.
Among the most enthusiastic voters, 13 percent indicated that they are motivated by a desire to elect more Republicans and give them control of the Senate, with another 5 percent citing opposition to President Barack Obama as a major motivating factor. By contrast, only 4 percent of those voters indicated that their enthusiasm is spurred by a desire to help Democrats keep control of the Senate, and just 3 percent of those respondents cited the ACA as a reason for their enthusiasm.
More than half of registered voters surveyed indicated that they have heard advertisements related to the ACA in the past 30 days. But in 11 states where there are competitive Senate races, that figure jumps to 71 percent. Roughly a third of respondents in those states indicated that they are seeing more ads opposed to the federal healthcare law compared with only 7 percent who said they're seeing more positive ads.
“It's a wonder people aren't throwing bricks at television sets,” Mr. Cook said of the advertising onslaught in states with competitive races.
But Jim Morill, a political reporter for the Charlotte Observer, said the ads have shifted away from healthcare in North Carolina, where Sen. Kay Hagan is facing a tough re-election contest. “A year ago it was all over the airwaves in North Carolina,” Mr. Morill said. “Those ads have pretty much disappeared from the airwaves.”
The ACA remains broadly unpopular, with 47 percent of respondents indicating an unfavorable view of the law compared with 35 percent who view it favorably. Those numbers have hardly budged for months.
“If you know someone's partisan leanings, you can basically predict everything they think about the Affordable Care Act,” said Mollyann Brodie, who oversees the Kaiser Family Foundation's public opinion surveys. “People's views on this law have really been set in stone since the beginning.”
But just a third of respondents favor repealing and replacing the law. Instead, they support improving it, with 63 percent of respondents favoring that course.
Repeal of the law, however, remains a salient issue for a significant subset of voters. Among respondents registered to vote, 41 percent indicated that they would be more likely to support a candidate who voted to repeal the ACA, compared with only 30 percent who suggested that they would be less likely to back that candidate.
The Kaiser survey included 1,505 adults nationwide. It was conducted by between Aug. 25 and Sept. 2 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
This report appeared on the website of Crain's Modern Healthcare magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business.