With high-profile presidential candidates advocating for Medicare for All and universal health care, it’s easy to think that such programs have broad support among Democratic voters. The reality, however, is those voters tend to care more about how much they pay for health care and less about who is eligible for coverage.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a poll earlier this year from the Third Way Collective, a center-left think tank. The survey asked 1,600 likely 2020 voters about health care and found that 62 percent thought reducing the cost of health care should be prioritized over expanding health care coverage. Just 33 percent of respondents said the priority should be providing health care coverage to more Americans.

About 90 percent of respondents said they already have health insurance, and 88 percent said they are satisfied with their plan. This signals they are not necessarily looking for sweeping changes, but rather improvements at the margin to improve the Affordable Care Act.

Trump’s Vulnerability on Health Care

The poll also found that a strong health care policy could give Democrats an edge over President Donald Trump, who does not have a strong track record on the issue. Trump’s approval rating on health care is only around 30 percent, which is much lower than his overall approval rating.

The poll did not give a reason for the low support, but since taking office Trump has tried to repeal the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act without offering a clear alternative.

In reporting information from its health care poll, Third Way offered some advice for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates about how to use this issue to their advantage next November:

“Trump’s paltry performance on health care sets up a compelling message for Democrats in 2020: Run relentlessly on voters’ top priority of reducing personal health care costs, be unsparing in knocking Trump for his inadequacy on the issue, and win the ‘what will I get from this plan’ argument among people who have coverage and expect to keep it.”

Medicare for All Support Waning

While voters’ preferences appear to lean toward improving existing health care systems and policies, many Democratic presidential candidates are focused on Medicare for All, which would provide universal health care coverage supported by the government rather than private insurance.

This policy remains popular among progressives, but does not carry as much support in suburbs and other areas that will be critical to a Democratic presidential victory. 

The Third Way poll found that support for Medicare for All is around 50 percent, but drops to 38 percent after voters hear negative messages about some of its drawbacks.

Overall, 63 percent of poll respondents said the focus should be on improving the current health care system in the U.S., rather than replacing it with a new program like Medicare for All. The number drops to 50 percent among Democratic primary voters, who tend to be more liberal, but increases back to 64 percent among Independents.

In addition to being unpopular among some voters, Medicare for All is unlikely to pass a polarized Congress, Vox reports. Moderate Democrats like Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg realize this and are focusing on how to improve upon the Affordable Care Act.

Vox’s Ezra Klein sums up the split among candidates like this:

“Every one of them believes America would be better off if we had a national health care system along the lines of what we see in Canada and Germany and the Netherlands and Japan. But many of them believe proposing a total overhaul of the entire American health care system makes it likelier that Democrats end up with nothing. The only health care bill that will make anyone’s life better is the one that actually passes.”

In other words, while Medicare for All might ignite the Democrats’ progressive base, overemphasizing it in the election could end up costing Democrats the White House.


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