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The Polling Center: Public Option, Universal Coverage Divide Texans

In the health care debate, universal coverage has significant if not overwhelming support, but is also marked by pronounced partisan differences, and Texans appeared truly split down the middle on the “public option.”

With the Senate debate on healthcare legislation front and center in Washington, we drilled down a little more into the responses we gathered from our health care items in the October 2009 UT/Texas Tribune poll. Texans of different political persuasions were in surprising agreement over many aspects of health care reform currently being vigorously debated in Washington, D.C., though the matters of disagreement that have been most pronounced at the national level are also dividing Texans.

Significant disagreement about the health care bill was restricted to two major points of contention: whether it should ensure that all Americans have health care coverage, and whether it should include a government-run public option, a longstanding bone of contention that congressional Democrats appear to have caved on in the last week, to the chagrin of large swaths of Democratic activist groups. (There has been much heat over provisions severely limiting funding for abortion that were added in the House but have been stripped from the Senate bill — the issue hadn’t yet emerged in the health care debate when the survey was designed.)

Universal coverage has significant if not overwhelming support, but is also marked by pronounced partisan differences. A clear majority, 57% of respondents, believed it at least somewhat important that the final bill ensures that every American has health coverage, as opposed to 29% who believe it more unimportant and 11% who were in the middle on the issue. Partisan differences were stark: 86% of Democrats and 56% of independents believe that ensuring universal coverage is at least somewhat important, compared to only 32% of Republicans. These results are especially interesting in light of the fact that the independents for whom we are reporting results are “pure” independents — they do not profess to lean toward one party or the other.

The electorate appeared truly split down the middle on the “public option.” Forty-one percent of respondents believe that inclusion of a public option is at least somewhat important, 43% believe it is unimportant, and 10% were undecided. Within this essentially even split, partisan differences were especially pronounced. Sixty-nine percent of Democrats believed it is at least somewhat important that the final bill include a public option, as opposed to only 15% of Republicans. Independents were closely divided, with 43% expressing that a public option is an important component of the final bill.

Aside from the questions of universal coverage and the public option, there was substantial agreement on specific provisions being discussed in the Congressional debate.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (88%) believed that it is at least somewhat important that the final health care bills lets individuals retain control over their own health care choices — no big surprise there. But the sample was also in substantial agreement about the importance of ending denials of coverage for pre-existing conditions (80%), ensuring that the health care bill does not add to the national debt (80%), protecting the Medicare program from cuts (79%), and ending “frivolous malpractice lawsuits” (78%). Support for these measures crossed party lines — large majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents in the sample consider it important that the aforementioned items result from the final health care bill. (That last item suggests that some Democratic interest groups may have some work to do, though the wording of the question was narrowly specified and didn’t ask about other tort reform issues, such as limiting damage awards, etc.)

We’re looking forward to building a scorecard comparing these results to the final legislation that emerges from the process (and we’re expecting some form of legislation will get passed and signed). We’ll put together a table comparing these results to Texans’ preferences when a bill gets sent to the White House.

 

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Jim Henson directs the Texas Politics project and teaches in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin, where also received a Ph.D. He helped design public interest multimedia for the Benton Foundation in Washington D.C. in the late 1990's, and has written about politics in both general interest and academic publications. He is also Associate Director of the College of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services unit at UT-Austin, where he has helped produce several award winning instructional media projects. In 2008, he and Daron Shaw established the first statewide, publicly available Internet survey of public opinion in Texas using matched random sampling for Texas. He lives in Austin, where he also serves as a member of the City of Austin Ethics Review Commission.

 

Adam Myers has been research assistant for the UT-Austin Texas Statewide Poll since the summer of 2008. He is a graduate student in the Government Department at the University of Texas at Austin, and assisted in the analysis on this poll.

 

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