Democratic voters kept healthcare near the top of their concerns when voting last week on Super Tuesday, with Sen. Hillary Clinton coming out the apparent winner on that issue, national exit poll data show.
Healthcare was the third-ranking concern for Democratic voters in all but two of the 16 states holding Democratic primaries, following the top concern of a looming recession and also concern about the war in Iraq, according to the data.
Republican voters in the 15 GOP primaries also ranked the economy as their top concern, but placed immigration as the second most important deciding factor and the war in Iraq as third, the polling data show. Edison Media Research, which conducted the voter survey, did not ask Republican voters about healthcare, instead asking about immigration.
On the Democratic side, the numbers begin to clear a muddled picture of who the general public considers to be the best candidate to take on healthcare reform, said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. In each of the nine states won by Clinton, with only minor exceptions, the electorate said in large part healthcare played a factor. While the issue of healthcare played a factor in Sen. Barack Obamas wins in seven open-primary states, it did so to smaller effect.
The exit poll information suggests that voters rearranged their priorities a little before they actually pulled the lever last week. In December 2007, the reliable Kaiser Health Tracking Poll showed healthcare to be the No. 2 issue for voters, behind the war in Iraq but in front of the economy.
In general and across the countryamong DemocratsClinton is seen as the best when it comes to healthcare, said Blendon, who has contributed to the Kaiser polling project and who recently wrote an article on the topic for the New England Journal of Medicine. But while the New York senator may be out in front in the traditional core Democratic issues, Obama distances himself as the front-runner on the Iraq war and issues over character, he said.
A recent Washington Post poll, updated earlier this month, bears that out. The poll shows that among voters who lean Democratic, a large majority of them said they trust Clinton to do a better job on health issues than Obama, by 60% to 30%. On the economy, those numbers dip slightly but still favor Clinton, 52% to 38%. And the Kaiser poll asked all voters which candidate they think best represents their own healthcare views, and while a good chunk hedged, 22% of the public named Clinton and only 7% named the Illinois senator. Nearly four-in-10 Democrats and one-in-five independents named Clinton.
Policy analysts have said that voters tend to pair their concerns over healthcare with larger fears of an economic downturn. So, when voters say that the economy is a driving issue behind their vote, they are likely grouping other concerns over access and cost of medical care, if needed.
Blendon said that the two intertwine when it comes to health insurance and the fear that mass layoffs could push many Americans into the ranks of the uninsured.
Overall, though, voters likely wont spend too much time looking at the nuts and bolts of any one candidates health reform platform, he said. Obama and Clinton have each laid out a plan that they say would extend coverage to 47 million Americans who currently are uninsured, but the average voter likely doesnt know which plan would mandate coverageClintons and which one wontObamas.
All told, 16 states held Democratic primaries and six more held caucuses. Obama won more state primaries, but Clinton earned victories in two of the most-populous statesCalifornia and New Yorkwhile Obama won in Illinois.
On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain, who took a commanding lead after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney bowed out of the race late last week, said he favors a consumer-centric approach to health reform, including use of tax credits for individuals and families to prompt them to buy insurance. McCain also said he favors reforming the way Medicare and Medicaid pay for healthcare services, saying that a premium needs to be paid to providers who focus on preventive care and chronic-disease management.