Politics and Public Opinion, Polls

Shifting sands on government’s responsibility on health care

Image credit: Fibonacci Blue (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Image credit: Fibonacci Blue (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

For the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 2000, a majority of Americans agree that it’s not the government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage. What’s driving the change?

There are several possible explanations, the first being simple partisanship. In 2000, when the question was first asked, Republicans were divided on the issue. Forty-three percent of Republicans said it was the government’s responsibility to provide health care. Now, only 12% do. It’s become the consensus view among Republicans that the government’s role in health care has become too large. That shift in attitudes explains the change in Gallup’s trend.

The poll also found that a majority of Americans still prefer private-run to government-run health care. But considering the negative movement on views towards the government’s responsibility, this is not a huge surprise.

The second possible interpretation of the data is that Americans are changing their attitude as a counter to the president. Americans tend to pull back when a president pushes for major social reform, acting as a counter weight.

Third, within the current policy environment surrounding the fiscal cliff, people are very conscious about the federal deficit. They’re smart enough to figure out that a larger responsibility for the government in health care means it will have to spend more money.

The fourth explanation of the data (one that I’m more inclined towards) is that Americans have seen how the government health care sausage is made, and it’s turned many off. The specifics surrounding the Affordable Care Act have not proven appetizing. With public attention and knowledge on the subject relatively high, people are more inclined to agree with arguments against increased government involvement in health care.

What impact will the shift in attitudes have on the Affordable Care Act? Not much. While present polls show that opinions on the law lean negative, they haven’t changed much over the last couple of months. People have formed their opinions on it and views have hardened. And there’s been little over the last few months that would have invited people to revisit their opinions.

While attitudes towards policy have not changed much, it seems the sand beneath Obamacare’s feet has shifted slightly. What’s unclear at this point is if the movement is permanent or represents a mere shift in the public opinion winds. Either way, Republicans for the time being have a more receptive audience for a small government message when it comes to health care.

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