First things first: The theme song of the week is from the television show “Jeopardy.”
Poll of the week: A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that 52% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents prefer that Congress focus on improving and protecting the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) rather than passing a “Medicare for All” plan. Only 39% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents want Congress to focus on passing a Medicare for All plan.
What’s the point: Much of the focus in this 2020 Democratic primary season has been on health care. That’s not surprising, given that voters have generally listed it very high up when ranking their most important issues in deciding who they will choose in 2020.
When it comes to health care, a lot of energy among the candidates has been for some form of a Medicare for All plan. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has led the charge, and many of the other major Democratic contenders have followed. Some have definitively not, however: former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas. They’re calling more or less for protecting and expanding the ACA.
That means this latest Kaiser poll suggests that many of the Democrats running for president may actually be in the minority.
Now, to be clear, the split is closer when you average across the last five Kaiser polls on the subject taken since 2017. About 48% were, on average, for expanding and protecting the ACA and 44% wanted to go for Medicare for All.
Additionally, most Democrats say they’re in favor of Medicare for All in the abstract.
Politics, though, usually involves a choice. The ACA remains wildly popular with Democrats.
The polling is pretty indicative that the Democratic Party’s electorate is, at minimum, divided on health care. There is plenty of room for candidates who want to argue for a more moderate approach.
This seems to especially be the case when Democratic voters think that health care is being threatened. Democrats were more likely this month than last to say they want Congress to pursue protection of the ACA over going after Medicare for All. As Kaiser noted, this movement came after President Donald Trump’s administration said last month that it agreed the ACA should be scrapped (Trump has since backed away from that position, saying Congress should wait until after the election before voting on an ACA replacement). The polling on the health care path preference of Democrats now looks most similar to when Republicans tried to essentially repeal the ACA in the summer of 2017.
It’s not difficult to see Democrats continuing to believe the ACA is in peril. Trump again knocked it at the National Rifle Association convention on Friday.
Indeed, the debate over health care is indicative of what’s being seen in the polling at large. Democrats are afraid of Trump and will do almost anything to stop him. For instance, Democrats say they want their party to move in a more moderate direction, despite more Democrats identifying as liberal than at any point in recent history. To that end, they’re more willing than usual to put forth an electable candidate than one who is ideologically pure.
You can see this in the polling for the primary. The candidates who are more moderate on health care are cumulatively polling between 5 and 10 points ahead of the candidates who are for Medicare for All.
Obviously, this isn’t a one-for-one. That is, voters are not basing their choices solely on ideology. Further, a more liberal candidate who is able to sell themselves as electable will be in a strong position.
Still, it’s basically impossible to underestimate the presence of Trump in Democratic voters’ minds. When push comes to shove, the polling indicates that, at least for now, many Democrats are more interested in a return to the pre-Trump era than pushing an ambitious liberal agenda — even on health care.