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Poll: Health Care the Top Issue for GOP and Democratic Voters

By Sasha Bartolf, CQ Staff

November 6, 2007 -- A new poll released Tuesday by the American Hospital Association revealed that in the four major primary state battlegrounds, both Republican and Democratic primary voters believe their parties' presidential candidate should focus on health care costs and coverage over issues such the Iraq War, illegal immigration, and the economy.

The poll interviewed 600 likely 2008 general election voters, and 400 primary caucus voters from both parties living in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.

When asked about which issue or issues caucus members would most like to hear presidential candidates discuss, 26 percent of Republican caucus voters and 55 percent of Democratic caucus voters listed health care as the top issue. Iraq ranked second in importance for GOP primary and caucus voters at 19 percent, and at 44 percent for Democratic voters.

Forty percent of general election voters in the four states surveyed also chose health care as the most important issue for presidential candidates to discuss. Thirty-two percent of all voters chose Iraq as the second issue they wanted addressed.

"The top priority for voters this election campaign is the future of health care in America," said AHA Executive Vice President Rick Pollack.

When asked why health care was so important, 54 percent of general election voters said it was because the health care system in their state was not meeting their needs; however, different states offered varying levels of dissatisfaction. General election voters in Iowa said 49 percent of their needs were not being met, while 61 percent of Nevada voters expressed their frustration with the state's health care system.

Eighty seven percent of general election voters favored providing health care coverage for everyone, with government, individuals, and employers contributing to the cost. When asked how this can be achieved, Republicans responded that requiring insurers to offer insurance to those with preexisting conditions would be their first choice for ensuring coverage for more Americans, followed by an employer mandate and an individual mandate. In contrast, Democrats stated that creating a single-payer system was the best way to ensuring health care access to everyone, followed by an individual mandate and an expansion of government programs for children.

When asked what goal the next president should address first, the consensus among general election voters in all four states was that making health care more efficient and affordable should come before figuring out how to cover everyone. However, differences between each party arose when the same question was posed to caucus and primary voters. Forty four percent of Republican caucus voters prioritized cost of coverage while only 17 percent of Democratic primary voters did; in contrast, 45 percent of Democratic caucus voters preferred that the next president focus on guaranteeing coverage to everyone, while only 15 percent of Republicans participating in the caucus favored this as their first health care measure.

When primary voters were asked what would be the best way to make health care more efficient and affordable, Democrats believed lowering administrative costs would lead to a better health care system. Republicans, on the other hand, thought that reforming the medical lawsuit system would lead to greater efficiency and lower costs.

All general election voters and caucus voters agreed that the most effective way to increase patient safety, lower costs and reduce paperwork would be to give patients the option of having electronic medical records. When asked what step should be taken first to improve the quality of health care, the majority of respondents agreed that providing doctors with the most current medical information was essential to improving care.

When questioned whether the next president and Congress should increase federal funding for hospitals, 55 percent of general and primary election voters agreed that funding should expand, while 7 percent believed hospital funding should decrease.

The survey also analyzed how voters in each state felt about the health care they were currently getting. For Nevadans, 28 percent experienced a time in the last three years when they did not have health insurance, which is the highest number of any of the states surveyed. In New Hampshire, Republican caucus voters are more interested in hearing how the candidates will cover the uninsured than in the other primary states.

National polling firms Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner conducted the survey on behalf of the American Hospital Association.

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