Universal Health Care Is Probably No More Popular Now Than It’s Ever Been


Harold Pollack says that Bernie Sanders has started a political revolution:

Not enough of one to win the Democratic presidential nomination, but enough to put the dream of single-payer health care back on the national political agenda in a way few would have expected five years ago….Just this week, Gallup released a poll indicating that “58% of U.S. adults favor the idea of replacing [the Affordable Care Act] with a federally funded healthcare system that provides insurance for all Americans.” Politico Magazine reports that Sanders’s health plan “is the most popular of the three remaining candidates.”

I’d be thrilled about this if it were true, but I have my doubts. The problem is that Americans have a long history of supporting things in the abstract but not so much when they become concrete partisan proposals. Take Obamacare. In 2013, a CNBC poll showed 37 percent unfavorability toward the “Affordable Care Act,” but 46 percent toward “Obamacare.” In 2014, a Morning Consult poll showed 71 percent support for offering Medicaid to all adults under the poverty line, but only 62 percent support for expanding Medicaid “as encouraged under the Affordable Care Act.” A Marist poll in Kentucky showed 57 percent disapproval of Obamacare but only 22 percent disapproval of kynect—Kentucky’s version of Obamacare. And of course, we have years of polling showing that lots of people like nearly all the individual elements of Obamacare, but then turn around and insist that they hate Obamacare itself.

As for universal health care, a Harris poll last September found 63 percent approval. A Kaiser poll in December found 58 percent support for Medicare-for-all. Gallup polls going back 15 years show higher support for government guarantees of health care during the Bush years than they do now.

So color me skeptical that Bernie Sanders has really had much effect on the health care debate. Gallup’s poll last week didn’t so much as breathe the word “taxes,” and if it did, support for the universal health care option would sink like a stone. Americans have long had mixed feeling about universal health care, and those feelings are deeply tied up in partisan attitudes and willingness to pay. Unfortunately, Sanders doesn’t seem to have moved the needle on this at all.