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National Election Night Survey of Voters, 1994

Among Issues, Voters See Health Reform As Top Priority for New Congress But Reject Major Overhaul of System For More Modest Approach

Embargoed for release: 12:00 p.m. EST Tuesday, November 15, 1994

For further information contact: Matt James or Tina Hoff

National Election Night Survey Also Finds: Voters Support Spending Cuts to Reduce Deficit in Theory, But Not in Practice When Specific Budget Areas Are Proposed

Menlo Park, CA — A Kaiser/Harvard election night survey of Americans nationwide who voted in the 1994 election has found that health care continues to be a key concern, but the voters are rejecting a major overhaul of the system. Instead, they strongly favor approaches to solving this national problem that are incremental and do not significantly expand government control of the health system.

When voters cast their ballots, candidates’ stands on issues are just one of many factors that determine their votes. Economic insecurity, values and ideology, attitudes about government and incumbents, and the perceived personal qualities of the candidates themselves all also play a major role. Among issues, however, health care (33%) was number one for voters in deciding who to vote for in the Congressional election, ahead of crime (29%) and taxes (23%). In addition, it was named as the top priority issue for the next Congress to deal with. [Tables 1 and 2]

In the survey, the voters also made it clear that they want Congress to take the lead in health reform next year, rather than the White House. [Table 3]

The survey shows that the voters’ vision of health care reform has shifted toward that held by many moderate Republicans and Democrats. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed said they were less supportive of major health reform than six months ago, with half of those citing as their reason that they did not think the government would do it right. More voters now want Congress to make modest changes in the health care system (41%), rather than enacting a major reform bill (25%). In addition, one in four voters favor leaving the system as it is. [Tables 4 and 5]

“These results say that voters want the new Congress to place health care high on their legislative agenda,” said Dr. Robert Blendon, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard University. “But what the public means by health reform now comes closest to a more moderate vision: one which is more limited in scope, incremental, and that involves a much more limited role for government.”

A majority of voters (55%) believe that it is better to have the health insurance system run by private health insurance companies than by the government. This is especially the case among those who voted for Republican House candidates (66%). [Table 6]

When asked what worries them most about health care reform, a plurality said they worry that there will be too much government bureaucracy (36%) or quality will decline (22%). When asked who they would like to take the lead in health care reform, more than one half indicated a preference for state leadership (54%), a change from previous surveys. [Tables 7 and 8]

Voters are split over whether the priority should be guaranteeing universal coverage or making an incremental start. Republican voters favor starting with coverage for some groups who do not have health insurance, but not attempting to cover everyone at this time (45%). Democrats more strongly favor guaranteeing health insurance coverage for all Americans as part of whatever legislation is passed (52%). [Table 9]

If health insurance can not be provided to all Americans, voters favor covering children first (40%) and working people who are uninsured (24%). When asked how the Congress might improve the private insurance system, 29 percent favor requiring employers who offer insurance to provide a choice of at least three health plans, and 27 percent favor requiring all employers to contribute part of the cost of health insurance for their employees. [Table 10 and 11]

In order to see these changes made in the health care system, a slight majority (51%) of voters are willing to pay more in health insurance premiums or taxes. [Table 12]

The Deficit, Taxes, and Entitlements

The survey shows that the outcome of the election was also affected by the federal deficit and voters’ desire not to have their taxes increased. These were named as the third and fourth highest priorities for the next Congress. When asked what Congress should do about the federal deficit in the next session, two thirds of voters (67%) preferred cuts in major spending programs to raising taxes (10%) or “not dealing with the deficit problem now” (10%). [Tables 13 and 14]

Survey results reveal a dilemma for the new Congress. Voters support general cuts in government spending in principle, but not in practice when they relate to specific current government spending programs. When presented with a list of 25 selected policies to reduce the deficit, a majority of voters supported only four:

  1. Having people over age 65 who earn more than $50,000 a year pay more for Medicare than other seniors (71% favor);

 

  • Decreasing spending on food stamps (55%);
  • Decreasing agricultural price supports (53%); and
  • Decreasing defense spending (53%).

 

Voters expressed very low levels of support for spending cuts in Social Security (17%), Medicaid (17%), Medicare (8%), and veterans’ benefits (7%). Even when told that one in three dollars spent by the federal government go to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, two thirds of voters (65%) stillprefer to see the biggest spending cuts come from other areas, while only 10 percent believe the biggest cuts should take place in these three major spending areas. [Tables 15 and 16]

These results point to a major obstacle facing the new Congress in its effort to reduce the federal deficit. Voters want Congress to address the deficit, but they do not want their taxes raised. They want spending cuts in principle, but are not willing to support major cuts in the programs that made up the largest part of the non-defense budget.

The poll results show sharp contrasts between Democrat and Republican voters. Democrat voters are willing to cut defense spending further in years ahead while Republicans are less willing. Republicans are more willing to cut AFDC (welfare payments); Democrats are less so. Voters in both parties are willing to cut spending on food stamps and agricultural price supports, and support asking those seniors who earn more than $50,000 per year to pay more for Medicare. [Table 15]

This situation is not aided by voters’ general lack of knowledge of what makes up the federal budget. They know what entitlement programs are, but they do not have a very good idea of what are major areas of spending in the federal budget. Asked which of five areas consumed the largest area of federal spending, only 15 percent correctly named Social Security and 30 percent named defense. One in four voters (27%) thought the most federal money was spent on foreign aid, which accounted for only 2% of the 1993 Federal Budget. [Tables 17 and 18]

“The public’s misconceptions about the Federal Budget is the Achilles heel in deficit reduction,” said Matt James, Vice President, Kaiser Family Foundation. “What the public is willing to embrace will not result in meaningful spending reductions. Policymakers need to do a better job in explaining which areas need to be addressed to achieve real savings or there will be a political price to pay when small-time reductions fail to result in big-time savings.”


Methodology

The Kaiser/Harvard Election Night Survey was a random-sample, telephone survey of adults nationwide who said they voted in the November 8, 1994 election. The national sample consisted of 1,200 voters. The survey was designed by the Harvard University School of Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management and the Kaiser Family Foundation, and was conducted by KRC Communications Research, a national opinion research firm located in Newton, Massachusetts. The margin of error in the national sample is plus or minus 3 percent.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, based in Menlo Park, California, is an independent national health care philanthropy and is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries. The Foundation’s work is focused on four main areas: health reform, reproductive health, HIV, and health and development in South Africa. The Foundation also maintains a special interest in health care in its home state of California. The Foundation does not support any particular proposal or approach to health reform.