Do voters really care about health care reform?

In April of last year, the Atlantic told readers that this question would be “the most decisive question” of the upcoming 2016 presidential election: “Will you take away my health insurance?” On February 2, 2016, the House of Representatives, voting mostly along party lines, failed to override President Obama’s veto of the latest attempt to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) in the form of the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act (H.R. 3762). Yet, while attacks on reform efforts are usual rhetoric for Congressional Republicans as well as most of the GOP presidential candidates, a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that voters’ interest in health reform as an issue in the presidential primary race is not as strong as some had predicted. Does this mean that voters do not care about health reform as much as we thought? Further, will this trend continue once the primaries are over and the Republican and Democratic candidates go head-to-head?

Kaiser study

A Kaiser Tracking Poll released in January of 2016 revealed that the ACA does not “rank highly as an issue for voters in the presidential primaries.” While the general cost of health care ranked as the third most important issue—with 28 percent of voters stating that that issue would be “extremely important” to their presidential vote—the ACA specifically ranked eighth overall, with 23 percent of respondents stating it was extremely important to their vote. Other issues ranking above the 2010 health reform were terrorism (38 percent), the economy and jobs (34 percent), the federal budget deficit (28 percent), and gun control (27 percent). Moreover, when respondents were asked to choose the single most important issue in the presidential race, only 4 percent chose the ACA.

CNN poll

A less specific question asked in a recent CNN poll ranked health care in general as the third most important issue in the election. When asked how important, on a scale of extremely important to not that important, a list of issues would be in the upcoming election, 35 percent stated health care would be extremely important, 41 percent said it would be very important, and 18 and 6 percent considered it moderately important or not that important, respectively. The poll also revealed that only 39 percent of respondents were aware of President Obama’s recent veto to the ACA-repealing legislation and that opinions are steady and almost evenly split when it comes to satisfaction with the ACA, with 44 percent having an unfavorable view and 41 percent favoring the reform.

Candidates’ opinions

Current Republican front-runners for the presidential nomination, including Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Donald Trump, have expressed their intentions to repeal the ACA, if elected. Yet, there is no one replacement plan that all the candidates agree on. While Cruz and Rubio both voted in favor of the recent attempt to repeal the ACA through H.R. 3762, Trump’s views on the reform have been vague. Beyond “bashing the current law” and promising that “everybody’s going to be taken care of” and “the government’s [going to] pay for it,” Trump’s particular stance on health reform is unknown. The lack of a solid position on this issue for the popular candidate has GOP leaders concerned.

On the Democratic side, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has promised to make general improvements in health care costs, she supports a continued implementation of the ACA. Her sole democratic opponent, Bernie Sanders (D-VT), has indicated that, if elected, he intends to pursue replacing the ACA with a “Medicare for all” single payer system.

As the votes for and against the override of the President’s veto of H.R. 3762 show, it appears that support for health care reform is split between party lines. However, in terms of the current presidential candidates, the views on health care reform are not as uniform. Because of the unique circumstances of the current presidential primaries, it may not be clear to what extent health care reform will be a major deciding issue for the race until the primaries are over and the Democratic and Republican nominations are decided.