Primary Concerns

February 5, 2020

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Polls show that health care is the number one issue for many voters in 2020. But what does that actually mean? We take a closer look at those polls and hear from a few people about how health care is influencing their vote.

Listen to the full episode below, read the transcript or scroll down for more information.

5 Charts to Help You Understand Health Care and the 2020 Election

Ashley Kirzinger and the Kaiser Family Foundation have already completed more than 15 polls gauging public attitudes in the lead-up to the 2020 election. These include national tracking polls, national polls on specific topics and state-specific polls. Below are five charts that Kirzinger says best encapsulate the role health care could play in the election.

1. Health Care Is the Top Issue for Democrats So Far

Health care has been among the top issues in every national election this century. But it wasn’t until the 2018 midterms — amid concerns over losing protections for pre-existing conditions — that it became the top issue for Democrats.

Polls show the same is true so far this year, with health care remaining near but not at the top for independents and Republicans. 

With 10 months until the general election, other issues could pop up, but for now, health care is number one.

2. President Trump Is Driving People to the Polls

This chart shows what the top motivating factors for voters in the so-called Blue Wall states of Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

And while health care may be a key issue for voters in 2020, defeating (or reelecting) President Donald Trump represents an even bigger push to vote. 

“That doesn’t mean that health care isn’t going to play a role in the election,” Kirzinger says. “It just means that this election is also a referendum on President Trump, and to ignore that would be missing a large part of the story.”

3. People Are Worried About Affording Their Health Care

“I know that a lot of the Democratic conversation has been ‘Medicare for All’ versus the public option. But what we’re seeing over and over in our polls, regardless of how we ask the question, is it all comes down to health care costs,” Kirzinger says.

Two-thirds of voters in a national tracking poll in August 2018 said they were very or somewhat worried about being able to afford an unexpected medical bill, and more than half felt that way about their annual deductible. Lowering prescription drug costs also remains a top priority for voters.

4. 'Public Option' More Popular than 'Medicare for All'

More people support a so-called public option (85% of Democrats and 67% of all voters) than support a so-called Medicare for All approach (77% of Democrats and 55% of all voters), according to KFF’s latest tracking poll.

However, nearly two-thirds of swing voters in those “Blue Wall” states say a Medicare for All plan is a bad idea.

Support for both plans has been increasing overall, and the latest polls show that voters are becoming more aware of how a Medicare for All system would impact them (i.e. increased taxes and likely elimination of current private health insurance plans).

5. Reproductive Health a Major Issue? Not Yet

Access to reproductive health care is often a major issue in elections, but it has yet to rise to the top this cycle. Fewer than half of voters in a recent national survey rated the issue as very important, and only 6% said it was the most important issue in the election.

But Kirzinger says that could change. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments this year on June Medical Services v. Gee, a case challenging a Louisiana law that would make it significantly harder for women in that state to access abortion services and could serve as a model for other states, if upheld.

“As the year progresses and we imagine that we will hear a lot about this Louisiana case, we could see [abortion] playing a larger role,” Kirzinger says.

Voter Voices

We talked with several voters who say health care is the top issue shaping who they are planning on voting for in the Democratic primary this year. You can hear more from them by listening to the full episode in the player at the top of the page.

Nancy Clark

State: New Hampshire

Primary Date: February 11

Top Health Care Issue: Rebuilding the Affordable Care Act

Top Candidates: Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Clayton McCook

State: Oklahoma

Primary Date: March 3 (Super Tuesday)

Top Health Care Issue: Prescription drug costs

Top Candidates: Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Khahlidra Hadhazy

State: New Jersey

Primary Date:
June 2

Top Health Care Issue:
Medicare for All

Top Candidates:
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren

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Episode Resources

Kaiser Family Foundation Polling on Health Care and 2020

January 2020 Tracking Poll

Abortion Knowledge and Attitudes, 2020

Blue Wall Voices Project, KFF and Cook Political Report, 2019

Americans’ Challenges with Health Care Costs, 2019

Health Care and the 2020 Election

U.S. Elections 2020: Understanding What’s At Stake For Health Care, Julie Rovner, Kaiser Health News/NPR, 2020

Medicare for All? A Public Option? Health Care Terms, Explained; Selena Simmons-Duffin; NPR; 2020

The Town the Ballpark Is In, Tradeoffs, 2019

Candidate Positions on Health Care Issues

Health Care: See Where The 2020 Democratic Candidates Stand; Danielle Kurtzleben, Lexie Schapitl and Alyson Hurt; NPR; 2019

Where 2020 Democrats stand on health care; Kevin Uhrmacher, Kevin Schaul, Paulina Firozi and Jeff Stein; Washington Post; 2020

Candidates Views on Medicare For All, Politico, 2020

Episode Credits

Guests: Ashley Kirzinger, Associate Director of Public Opinion and Survey Research, Kaiser Family Foundation

Ryan Levi, Producer, Tradeoffs

Original music composed by Ty Citerman; additional music by Blue Dot Sessions and Bacon

This episode was reported and produced by Ryan Levi and Victoria Stern. It was mixed by Ryan Levi.

Additional thanks to:
Alyssa O’Donnell, Juliana Keeping, Cassie Mills, the Small Business Majority, Oryan McKinney-Bruskin, Delaney Bounds, Ron Nelsen, Jose Gonzalez, Melinda Ruperto, Francis Ying, Lucy Hodder, Ryan Pougiales, Bob Blendon, Samantha Stella, Matt Canter, Matt Robison, Katie McMurran, Tiffany Mitchell, Kevin Yuille, Jeremy Beaver, the Tradeoffs Advisory Board…

…and our stellar staff!