The push for ObamaCare has certainly had an effect on the debate over the role of government in health insurance and universal coverage, but probably not the one ObamaCare advocates intended. Gallup conducted its annual poll of adults on that question — and finds that a majority says that it isn’t a federal-government responsibility to provide health insurance to all Americans. This represents a 44-point swing in three years:
More Americans now say it is not the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage (50%) than say it is (47%). This is a first since Gallup began tracking this question, and a significant shift from as recently as three years ago, when two-thirds said ensuring healthcare coverage was the government’s responsibility.
Significant? I’d say. In 2006, the survey found a 69%/28% split in favor of it being the federal government’s responsibility, or more than 2-1, the apex for statists on health care. In 2007 the gap narrowed to 64-33, and when Obama got elected a year ago, it had drifted to 54-41 — still better than Obama’s eventual margin of victory.
Gallup can’t quite put its finger on why things have suddenly changed:
The reason behind this shift is unknown. Certainly the federal government’s role in the nation’s healthcare system has been widely and vigorously debated over the last several months, including much focus on the “public option.” These data suggest that one result of the debate has been a net decrease in Americans’ agreement that ensuring all Americans have healthcare coverage is an appropriate role for the federal government.
They’re ignoring the obvious, probably not deliberately but because they didn’t ask enough follow-up questions to determine it. People have begun seeing what the bill would be to deliver that kind of system — and not just in dollars and cents. It has costs in choice, in access, in options for care that only became clear when Democrats rushed to impose such a system on the US. Before 2008, the question existed almost entirely as an academic one, and people gave a response based on broad concepts and lazy thinking.
Also, Gallup ignores another significant factor. In late 2007, the economy and unemployment did not look bad at all, and deficit spending was too high but not historically out of the norms of post-war America. By 2008 that economic picture and deficit problem looked much worse, and in 2009 people have begun to realize that top-down government programs are the problem, not the solution.
One group of people haven’t gotten the message, though:
More than 7 out of 10 Republicans say it is not the responsibility of government to see that all Americans have healthcare coverage, while more than 7 out of 10 Democrats say it is.
Three years ago, the Democratic point of view fell firmly in the mainstream. Now it’s the fringe, but the Democrats in the Beltway haven’t noticed that the ground has changed under their feet. A 44-point swing in three years is a sea change, one that will drown the Democrats next year if they try to shove ObamaCare and its mandates down our throats.
Update: Glenn Reynolds says, “Americans seem to be becoming steadily more libertarian. Thank you, Barack!” You can certainly see that trend among Republicans in this poll. In 2002, at the height of “compassionate conservatism,” 45% of Republicans thought it was a government responsibility. Only in the last two years has that number dropped below 38%, and it’s at 21% now. Gallup did not provide numbers on independents, but I suspect that the same kind of trend has occurred among them as well.
Hopefully, Republicans who adopt the principles of federalism and small-L libertarianism won’t forget them so easily again.