Democratic Voters Wish to Hear Candidates' Views On Health, But Priorities Vary


With the very first Democratic debates per week away, health care is the top issue the party's voters say they need candidates to deal with, according to a poll released Tuesday.

But what they mean with that varies widely.

Nearly 9 out of 10 Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents said it is essential for candidates to go over health problems. But 28% said they want candidates to focus on “lowering the total amount people pay for health care,” contributing to 18% said Democrats should talk about “increasing use of health care,” the Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

That divide extends to specific health care proposals, mirroring the split on the issue among Democratic politicians. About 16% from the voters leaning Democratic said the party should discuss “protecting the [Affordable Care Act] and protections for those who have pre-existing conditions,” while about 15% said they need candidates to talk about “implementing a single-payer or Medicare-for-all system.”

That figure reflected a rise in the number of Americans who name “Medicare for All” as a priority, noted Ashley Kirzinger, a KFF polling expert. 6 months before the 2021 midterm elections, only 4% of Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents said they wanted candidates to talk about single-payer.

“We're expecting to hear candidates talk about it because individuals are referring to it,” she said.

The poll also revealed that voters are unclear how extensively Medicare for All would revamp the American health care system.

For instance, while most voters – Democrats, Republicans and independents – said they figured a tax increase could be required to finance Medicare for those, more than 50% of all respondents said individuals who get private health insurance through work can keep it, that individuals who buy their own coverage would retain it, and that both of these individuals and employers would keep paying medical health insurance premiums. There were sharp differences in these categories, with Republicans much more likely to expect major alterations in the system under a Medicare for those system.

The flagship single-payer legislation – spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is among the 2021 Democratic presidential candidates – would eliminate insurance premiums, in addition to most employer-sponsored or privately purchased health plans. (It's unclear how much Medicare for All would cost, though the Congressional Budget Office has noted that “government spending on healthcare would increase substantially.”)

The disconnect may be the result of voters lacking the knowledge of or understanding the information on the care proposals being put forth, Kirzinger said. It could be that voters are skeptical of how much lawmakers would actually alter the American system.

“It's telling that a majority think large servings of the present system would stay,” she said.

The poll was conducted May 30-June 4 among about 1,200 people, who about 1,000 are registered voters, and 524 are generally Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents. It has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points for issues pertinent to every respondent, as well as +/-4 percentage points for all those regarding only registered voters. For Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents only, the margin of error is +/-5 percentage points.