Is Health Care Hurting the Democrats?

by John Sides on January 20, 2010 · 3 comments

in Health Care,Public opinion

That’s the argument of political scientists David Brady and Douglas Rivers, along with business and law professor Daniel Kessler. Here are the key graphs:

We have polled voters in 11 states likely to have competitive Senate races in November on how they feel about health reform and how they might vote in November. The interviews were conducted from Jan. 6-11 with 500 registered voters in Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
…Health reform is more popular in some of these states than in others. Where it’s popular, Democratic candidates don’t have too much of a problem, but where it’s unpopular—and that includes most states—the Democratic Senate candidates are fighting an uphill battle. Support for health reform varies in these 11 states from a low of 33% in North Dakota to a high of 48% in Nevada. Democrats trail Republicans in six of the states; three are toss-ups; and in two, Democrats have a solid lead. Support for the Republican Senate candidates in these races is closely related to voter opposition to the health-care Senate bill.
…How do we know that it’s the health-reform bill that’s to blame for the low poll numbers for Democratic Senate candidates and not just that these are more conservative states? First, we asked voters how their incumbent senator voted on the health-care bill that passed on Christmas Eve. About two-thirds answered correctly. Even now, long before Senate campaigns have intensified, voters know where the candidates stand on health care. And second, we asked voters about their preference for Democrat versus Republican candidates in a generic House race. As in the Senate, the higher the level of opposition to health reform, the greater the likelihood that the state’s voters supported Republicans.

Voters’ knowledge of how senators voted is key. In an earlier post, I argued that voters don’t often make decisions based on policy. In part this is because they don’t necessarily know where the candidates stand. But perhaps that won’t prove true with regard to health care reform in 2010.

UPDATE: Brendan is more skeptical.

{ 3 comments }

Dan January 21, 2010 at 8:25 am

Two-thirds correct isn’t all that impressive, given the accuracy of the simple heuristic that it’s a Democratic bill opposed by Republicans. And a correlation between supporting Democrats and siding with Democrats on health care doesn’t seem very informative about causality.

Andrew Gelman January 21, 2010 at 10:45 am

John: When you write, “Here are the key graphs,” I want to see some graphs!

Steve January 21, 2010 at 3:11 pm

David and Doug know better. Guess they needed to say something newsworthy…

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