HIAA Survey Finds Health Care Not ‘Determining’ Issue in Election
Health care issues were not the determining factors during Tuesday's election, according to a "bipartisan" post-election survey released yesterday by the Health Insurance Association of America. Since 1991, HIAA, an association representing insurance companies, has conducted post-election surveys on how health care issues influence voters' decisions (HIAA release, 11/9). In conjunction with HIAA, pollsters at Public Opinion Strategies and The Mellman Group completed two nationwide surveys -- a pre-election survey on Oct. 16-19 including 800 likely voters and a post-election survey on Nov. 7 of 800 actual voters. The results from this year's
post-election survey include the following:
- When asked which one or two issues were "most important" when voting for president (aside from character or other personal issues), 11% of voters chose health care, coming in fifth behind Social Security (24%), education (23%), abortion (16%), taxes (13% ), and the economy (12%).
- Regarding House and Senate choices, surveyors asked voters to rate the importance of candidates' positions on a variety of issues. Eighty-three percent of voters ranked "helping more families and children get health care coverage" as "extremely" or "very" important. Eighty-three percent also ranked "requiring that doctors, not HMOs, make medical decisions" extremely/very important. Seventy percent rated "reforming HMOs by passing a patients' bill of rights," as extremely/very important. Bill McInturff, partner and co-founder of Public Opinion strategies and recent pollster for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during his presidential race during the primaries, explained that although these two issues represent roughly the same thing, voters are more receptive to the "language" in the former issue
-- enough to account for a 13 point spread. Seventy-nine percent of voters felt providing seniors with prescription drug coverage was extremely/very important, and 76% gave this ranking to "comprehensive reform of today's health care system."
- Regarding campaign commercials aired in the three weeks leading up to the election, 63% of those polled said they "heard a lot" or "some" on the topic of prescription drug coverage, making it the third-most-heard-about topic in campaign ads.
- When asked "how good of a job" the federal government or the private sector would do if given the responsibility of "implementing and actually running the health care system," 78% felt the federal government would do a "poor or fair job," while only 18% of voters felt the federal government would do an "excellent" or "very good" job. Sixty-five percent of voters surveyed felt the private sector would do a poor/fair job, while 32% felt the private sector would do an excellent/very good job. Mark Mellman, CEO of Mellman Group and a leading strategist for the Democratic Party, noted that these results suggest "the difficulty voters had in navigating" health care issues. He added, "There is very little clarity on what to do, who should do it and how it should be done."
HIAA President Charles "Chip" Kahn concluded that health care issues "did not tip the scales at the end of the day." However, he noted that level of interest in the issue of health care costs among voters in this year's election is "unprecedented" compared to past elections. Mellman pointed out that Texas Gov. George W. Bush's focus on health care issues, a departure from traditional Republican strategy, played a role. "If Bush had not come out with a plan ... if he simply said the Democrats' plan was 'bad' but had none of his own," we would have seen a "bigger gap of voters that favored [Vice President Al] Gore" on health care issues, he said, noting that Republicans have learned their lesson of "just saying no on these issues." In addition, Mellman commented on the shift of voter concerns toward Social Security during the last three weeks -- according to the survey, three weeks prior to the election, 15% of voters named Social Security as "most important" when deciding to vote for president, but that number jumped to 24% of voters by Election Day. "We saw that shift because Democrats started to move away from health care issues as they got attacked on those issues," and moved instead toward "an issue that has traditionally been harder for Republicans to make a case against, and that's Social Security." Finally, Mellman noted that voter interests in this election were much more divided than in past elections. In the 1992 election, HIAA surveys reported that 65% of voters named the economy as the most important issue. In this year's election, voters' interests were not so heavily focused on a single issue, but markedly divided between health care, education, Social Security and other issues.
Taking into consideration the sharply divided Congress, McInturff and Mellman offered their predictions of how health care issues would be addressed under a Bush or Gore administration. McInturff predicted that under a Bush administration and with no clear majority in Congress, it will require an "enormous amount of accommodation to accomplish anything." With Democrats eyeing the mid-term elections, McInturff said, "Democrats will have zero interest in wanting a Republican administration to take credit for [accomplishing] reasonable reforms or ... to be able to show they accomplished resolution on health care issues." Still, McInturff said that the Republican party "would be well advised ... to not lose the focus on health care issues," especially looking forward to the 2002 elections. Mellman added that patients' rights legislation could pass in a Bush presidency, the Medicare prescription drug coverage will most likely not. Mellman said that if Gore is elected president, "the question is ... 'are you going to have a Republican filibuster against the patients' bill of rights?'" Noting that it would not be a "politically wise" idea for Republicans to filibuster, Mellman said, "I think it is possible" to pass a patients' bill of rights under Gore. "Republicans will look at the political realities and make the judgment that it is better to have the [patients' bill of rights] than to filibuster against it" (Meredith Weiner, California Healthline, 11/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.