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Health Care and Economy Top Domestic Issues in 2008 Presidential Election

Posted by Alan on December 20, 2007


Iraq remains the single most important issue for voters in deciding whom to back for president in 2008, but close behind is health care reform and the economy. This according to the just released Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll: Election 2008.

When asked, “What is the single most important issue in your choice for president?” and pushed to give two answers, 29 percent of the respondents said Iraq, but health care and the economy were close behind, each mentioned 21 percent of the time. There were modest differences based on party affiliation. Republicans ranked the economy slightly ahead of health care (18 percent to 16 percent). So did Independents (22 percent versus 20 percent). Democratic voters, however, indicated health care was a more important issue for them than the economy in general (28 percent to 23 percent).

The survey approached the question in two ways. Half of those surveyed by the Kaiser Foundation were asked the “single most important issue” question in the previous paragraph. The other half were asked, “What do you think is the most important problem for the President and Congress to address?” Again, respondents were pushed for two answers. The top six responses for all respondents were:

  1. Iraq (46%)
  2. Health Care (24%)
  3. Economic Issues (22%)
  4. Immigration (15%)
  5. Gas Prices/Energy (8%)
  6. Terrorism/National Security (7%)

Iraq was the top response for respondents of all parties. When phrased this way, however, Immigration was the second highest ranking issue for Republicans with 23 percent followed by health care with 21 percent. Independents put health care second with 23 percent, followed by immigration at 19 percent. For Democrats health care was the number two issue (30 percent) followed by economic issues(26 percent).

Interestingly, Iraq and health care as an issue lost some ground to economic concerns since the Kaiser Foundation’s October survey. Then, the top six issues to the “what do you think is the most important problem for the President and Congress to address” question were:

  1. Iraq (54%)
  2. Health Care (29%)
  3. Economic Issues (16%)
  4. Immigration (12%)
  5. Frustration with government (6%)
  6. Terrorism/National Security (5%)

While the number of respondents mentioning health care declined somewhat, voters remain interested in hearing presidential candidates talk about the issue. Not surprisingly, the specific health care reform issues they want to hear about vary by party affiliation.  The Kaiser survey found that Republican and Independent respondents wanted to hear the candidates speak about reducing the costs of health care and health insurance (47 percent of Republicans; 43 percent of Independents). 35 percent of the Democrats said this was an important topic for conversation, but more wanted to hear candidates discuss expanding health insurance coverage for the uninsured (42 percent).  Expansion of coverage was the second most mentioned issue by Republicans and independents (19 percent and 29 percent, respectively).

In considering these survey results, it’s important to keep in mind that voters don’t always make their decision based on the issues. In fact, the Kaiser survey found that only 46 percent of the voters would decide who to vote for based on the candidates’ stands on the issues. An equal number (45 percent) say they’ll base their vote on their perception of the candidats’ leadership abilities, character, values and experience. Ten percent aren’t sure how they’ll base their voting decision.

So health care reform will be an important issue in the 2008 presidential primaries, but the specific positions taken by the candidates won’t be the whole story. What also matters is what their positions say about the candidates character, values and leadership.

Polls are fun to look at, but they have limited value. The true test comes when people actually cast ballots. With the Iowa caucuses less than two weeks away and the New Hampshire primary less than a week after that, the first test results are near at hand.

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