The Democratic Primary candidates have taken polarized stances on healthcare. Candidates like Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer want to improve the Affordable Care Act. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to remove the current system and replace it with a universal healthcare system. Candidates such as Amy Klobuchar strongly oppose replacing the the system. But what do everyday Americans think about healthcare? How many oppose or support universal healthcare?
A Pew study from 2018 shows that about 6 out of every 10 Americans believe it is the government’s responsibility to distribute healthcare.
As the graph below shows, this majority consensus on the government’s responsibility for healthcare was not always present. In 2010, it was 50%, but starting in 2016, more Americans began supporting the government option. The relatively large social inequality, combined with the popularization of far-left politics by Bernie Sanders, had opened the American’s political thought process to reevaluating pragmatism in healthcare costs. This shift in healthcare politics was necessary for the acceptance of any liberalization of the current system, no matter the magnitude of change desired.
First, in the current age of polarized politics, one has to first know the priorities of most Americans. Some news media outlets may downplay the significant of healthcare in people’s lives by claiming that most Americans are happy with what they have. There is data to counter that reducing healthcare costs is not a concern to Americans. According to another Pew study, “Domestic issues of reducing health care costs (69% top priority) … now rank among the top tier of public priorities.”
Reducing healthcare costs, as the graph shown above demonstrates, is second only to the economy in importance to Americans, losing out by only 1%. It can be argued that healthcare is the most important factor, since economic well-being determines the health of citizens, and how much income they can dedicate to health-related costs. Economy and healthcare, in other words, are inseparable in most American’s lives.
When arguing about the public or private influence of healthcare, candidates like Buttigieg and Steyer state that the private option should not be removed, because many union jobs have great private health insurance through their employer. Yet this capacity for unions to negotiate healthcare with private employers only has leverage due to a strong government. In other words, these union-won healthcare plans are not due to a privatized environment, but a government that regulates that privatized environment. If the private sector is in a constant struggle with the government to further privatize the health system, then the synergy of a hybrid health system is questionable.
What about universal health care? Only 27% of Americans, according to a pew analysis, support it. While 24% want a mixed private/public system, a strong 38% percent support the current medicare/medicaid system. In other words, while a majority of Americans want to improve the healthcare system, only about half of this majority want universal healthcare. The willingness of this group to concede to healthcare change that is not universal will determine the success of candidates like Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Steyer. Is it going to be “Bernie or bust,” or is it going to be “Democrat over Trump?”
Regardless of whether a universal healthcare, or “medicare for all who want it” candidate wins the primary, their success in convincing Americans of the superiority of their healthcare plans in the general election will be a more difficult task. As the graph above shows, 76% of Republicans believe the government is not responsible for healthcare. In addition to this, 12% of these Republicans want to revoke the current medicare/medicaid system already in place.
Population-wise, a Democrat approach to healthcare will be more popular than the Republican stance of doing nothing. This parallels Hilary Clinton’s success with the popular vote in the 2016 election. However, in an electoral system that Trump decisively won in 2016, as long as a strong majority of Republican regions oppose healthcare changes, then this controversial topic will remain partisan in nature, and people will vote for the same party they did in 2016. The state of healthcare will not change.
However, there is hope for future of universal healthcare, as shown by the above chart. Among Democrats, a majority of younger voters, aged 49 or younger, support it. If the younger segment of America continue to show support in this system, then it will become more mainstream within the Democratic party.