Americans Dubious of GOP Health Care Reform, Poll Finds

GOP operatives say party leaders must press on

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, are trying to push a health care overhaul forward. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, are trying to push a health care overhaul forward. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 27, 2017 at 6:12pm

A new poll found a third of Americans think a GOP health care policy would marginally affect their health care. Just 15 percent think their coverage would improve. So why are Republicans hellbent on dismantling the 2010 health care law before the August recess?

Nine out of every 10 respondents to a new Economist/YouGov poll agreed health care is an issue that is at least “somewhat important,” with seven out of 10 saying health care was “very important.”

Yet just 15 percent of respondents think they would be personally “better off” if President Donald Trump and Congress were to pass health care reform, with 33 percent saying they would be worse off and 35 percent saying they would be “about the same.” Eighteen percent said they weren’t sure.

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From a policy standpoint, most Senate Republicans believe the private market for insurance is on the brink of collapse. That’s why they’re rushing legislation through Congress with such a short window for review, Josh Holmes, a political strategist and former chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.

Republicans are pushing the message that Obamacare has ushered Americans toward a crisis cliff and that an emergency bill to guide them away from the edge will inevitably have its jags — which is better than nothing.

“In the last 10 years, in all of the sort of crisis moments—when you think of TARP, or you think of the fiscal cliff, or you think of debt ceiling standoffs, things like that — rarely do you get great policy,” Holmes said. “Congress needs to act with great haste and little review, and the only goal is to help constituents prevent the pain that people are acutely feeling in a real-time environment.”

“They really don’t have any choice,” Holmes said, “other than to act now or wait until you’re in a crisis situation.”

Adding to the GOP’s urgency are the political ramifications of not being able to pass reform with control of both legislative chambers and the White House.

For Kevin McLaughlin, former deputy executive director of the NRSC, the 15 percent of people who think they’d be better off under a GOP health care reform law represents a crucial part of the Republican base.

“The larger picture with this remains that Republicans have been promising for seven years to do this,” said McLaughlin. “We won a lot of elections, a lot of seats, based on that promise. Failing to deliver on this promise would be devastating to our base.”

And Republican lawmakers are gambling that galvanizing their base by getting a deal done — any deal — outweighs the drawbacks of voting for an imperfect bill.

Constituents do appear dug in: The results of the most recent Economist/YouGov poll have barely shifted from June, despite momentous decisions on health care made over the last month.

“Anyone who doesn’t want the Republicans to vote for health care reform right now probably wasn’t going to vote for them before anyway,” McLaughlin said.

Lawmakers and political strategists on the Democratic side say the bullish Republican repeal effort could come back to bite the GOP.

They believe overwhelmingly negative polling numbers for the recent renditions of GOP repeal strategy demonstrate that large swaths of the population are paying attention to the issue, which could affect voting patterns.

“I think it’s a major miscalculation by Republicans,” said Josh Schwerin, communications director for Priorities USA. “What they seem to care about is being able to say they kept a promise. What they don’t seem to care about is the fact that 20 or 30 million people are going to lose their health care.”

The proof that Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot, Schwerin said, lies in bipartisan opposition from governors — including Republican Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada — who worry cuts to Medicaid in various iterations of the GOP bill would decimate their constituents.

Americans would “come out on the losing end if Senate Republicans try to force through a new healthcare proposal with no bipartisanship, transparency, or open dialogue,” Kasich said ahead of the Senate’s Monday vote on the motion to proceed with debate.

He has made multiple appearances in Washington with Democratic governors in recent months to press his case.

“When you have senators who are in Washington not interacting with their constituents every day, they have a very different view of this than governors,” Schwerin said. “By keeping senators in Washington away from their constituents, McConnell hopes that he can force something through.”

While experts said national polls like the one conducted by The Economist and YouGov can provide a general snapshot of the nation’s mood, they cautioned against using them to predict electoral outcomes on a state-by-state — and, in the House, district-by-district — basis.

“I don’t know a serious political operative that bases decision-making on national polls,” Holmes said. “You’ve got a ton of data available in a good campaign that you can analyze in much finer detail than you can in a broad-brush, limited-sample national poll.”

“If you’re making decisions on that,” he said, “you’re in a bad spot.”

The poll surveyed 1,500 American adults from July 23 to 25, 2017 with a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent.