Health Care as Campaign Issue: Ready to Rally?

August 4, 2004

After being buried under stories about the war in Iraq, terrorism and joblessness, health care seems poised to make a comeback as a campaign issue.

President Bush has announced that his goals for a second term will include making health care more available and affordable. Details are expected in August. Sen. Kerry and running mate Sen. John Edwards mention the Kerry health proposals often in their appearances.

Both campaigns appear to be paying attention to recent polls. A Harris Poll in June found health care tied with employment/jobs as the number three “most important issue for the government to address,” ahead of education and terrorism. A poll by Investor’s Business Daily released July 20 found health care in third place among voters’ important issues, after the economy and the war but ahead of national security.

Health care seems especially important to women swing voters. Lifetime Television and Rock the Vote found in early July that four out of five undecided women voters “do not believe the country is heading in the right direction on the issue of health care and insurance coverage.”

Is health care really making a rally? What do polls nationally and in battleground states say about health care as a campaign issue? With which voter subgroups is health care likely to be a winner? How will the new Medicare drug benefit, signed into law by President Bush and criticized as inadequate by Senator Kerry, affect voters’ attitudes? How does health care fit into larger campaign themes?

To examine these questions and others, the Alliance for Health Reform and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored an August 4, 2004 briefing for reporters only. Panelists were: polling expert Daniel Gotoff of Lake, Snell, Perry and Associates; David Winston, veteran Republican strategist and pollster, founder of the Winston Group; Megan Hauck, deputy policy director for the Bush campaign; and Chris Jennings, founder of Jennings Policy Strategies and former Clinton White House health policy advisor. The Alliance’s Ed Howard moderated.

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