Utah Voters Support Medicaid Expansion

43% of Utah voters prefer the Governor’s plan, 33% prefer the ACA plan, 13% prefer no change, and 11% prefer the Speaker’s Plan.

 This post was written by CSED Research Fellow and BYU Political Scientist Jay Goodliffe with assistance from CSED Undergraduate Research Fellow John Griffith.  Inquiries about the analysis should be directed to Jay Goodliffe or Quin Monson.

The April 2014 Utah Voter Poll (UVP) found that a majority of Utah voters support some form of Medicaid expansion.  Choosing between plans proposed by Governor Gary Herbert, Speaker Becky Lockhart, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and no change, 43% of Utah voters prefer the Governor’s plan, 33% prefer the ACA plan, 13% prefer no change, and 11% prefer the Speaker’s Plan.

As the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, has begun to take effect, Republican governors are deciding how to close a gap in health insurance created by a 2012 Supreme Court decision making Medicaid expansion optional to the states. While the Obama administration has been encouraging states to expand Medicaid through federal Obamacare funding, governors in conservative states have been looking for other methods of expanding coverage. In Utah, Governor Herbert has proposed taking $258 million of the annually available $524 million in federal funds and seeking a waiver allowing the state to provide subsidies to help up to 111,000 low-income Utahns buy private insurance. In contrast, Utah House Republicans, led by Speaker Lockhart, offered a plan which rejects the $524 million of federal funds and uses $35 million in state money and supplements them with $80 million of federal dollars to extend partial health care benefits to 54,000 or fewer of low-income Utahns.

Two forms of the question

In the poll, voters were presented with a short description of each plan without labeling the primary sponsor. When participants chose between the four plans, 43% preferred the Governor’s plan, 33% preferred the full Obamacare funds, 13% preferred maintaining the status quo, and 11% preferred the Speaker’s plan.  Some participants were offered a “Don’t Know” option, in addition to the four other options. When the “Don’t Know” option was available, 30% favored Obamacare, 29% favored the Governor’s plan, 17% favored maintaining the status quo, 11% favored the Speaker’s plan, and 14% chose “Don’t Know.”  When the “Don’t Know” option was available, the Governor’s plan lost the most support, which may indicate that support for his plan is not as strong. However, we surmise that if the plan were labeled “Governor Herbert’s plan,” it would receive stronger support. In the analysis that follows, we will use the poll question where participants could not answer “Don’t Know,” but the results are qualitatively similar if we include that option, except where we note below. With either form of the question, the poll results show that most voters prefer some kind of Medicaid expansion.

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Partisan differences

There is a clear partisan split when it comes to support for the four options for Medicaid funding. The poll shows that 53% of Republican voters support the Governor’s plan, 77% of Democrats favor the full Obamacare funds, and Independents are split between the two, with 44% favoring the Governor’s plan and 41% favoring Obamacare.  (When “Don’t Know” is included as an option, support for the Governor’s Plan drops among Republicans and Independents.)  Participants who self-identified as being of an “Other” political party overwhelmingly chose to maintain the status quo (57% preferring this plan), likely due to support for that plan among the state’s libertarians.  However, those identifying with an “Other” political party constitute only 5% of Utah voters. The results of the poll show that there is little support for the Speaker’s plan, even among Republican voters.

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Ideological differences

Looking at support for each plan based on political ideology shows that the greatest support for Speaker Lockhart’s plan comes from those who consider themselves to be strongly conservative, with 25% of this group preferring her plan. Yet even among strongly conservative voters, 36% prefer the Governor’s and 33% prefer no change.  In general, liberal voters prefer Obamacare, and moderate and conservative voters prefer the Governor’s plan. (Some of the moderate and conservative support for the Governor’s plan shifts to “Don’t Know” when “Don’t Know” is available as an option.)

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Political observers have noted that Speaker Lockhart may challenge Governor Herbert for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in 2016. The Medicaid issue could be a significant one in that election. While caucus and primary voters are not necessarily representative of general election voters, this poll shows far more support for the Governorís plan than the Speakerís plan. In general, most Utah voters prefer some form of Medicaid expansion, regardless of party or ideology.

Methodology

Click here to download a topline report that includes the full survey questionnaire, frequencies for each question, a detailed methodological report (including details about the sampling as well as response rates and cooperation rates) and information about the margin of sampling error.

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About Quin Monson

Quin Monson is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
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4 Responses to Utah Voters Support Medicaid Expansion

  1. Daniel Zappala says:

    It would be interesting to poll by element of the plan (e.g. premium support versus Medicaid expansion) instead of by the name of the plan. When polling of this nature is done on the ACA, there is broad support for individual portions, even when the overall plan polls poorly. Likewise, in states that have their own exchange (e.g. Kentucky), calling it by the state’s exchange name polls favorably, while calling it Obamacare polls poorly, even though they are one and the same.

  2. Sam Walker says:

    The descriptions of the plans basically boiled them down to TWO sentences each. I can guarantee that did not do them justice and those answering really have ZERO idea of what they are based on the questions asked. The number of conclusions this research draws from that is irresponsible. The plans are inordinately complex – eligibility levels are different, co-pay requirements are different, probability of federal approval differ, funding mechanism differ, benefit design flexibility differ, commercial plans that are medicaid compliant many could assume is no different than medicaid, crowd out components, effects on providers, access and network adequacy of options, etc., etc.

  3. Don Milne says:

    I wish the survey would have included how the plan was paid for. Liberals would like people to think that there is no cost to more and more government spending. When the federal government is spending more than it collects in taxes, any additional spending is 100% borrowed. I suspect the poll results would be much different if the question was “Do you support spending $X more on Medicaid expansion know that all of it is borrowed and will have to be paid back by future generations?”

  4. Mary Hathaway says:

    I have to agree with Sam. The descriptions of the plans in the poll is insufficient to say people understand the actual plans and from what I can tell the plans keep changing – who knows what the actual Governor’s plan will be once CMS is done with it. To that end Daniel’s approach would have been much better – to survey for specific support of concepts like medicaid versus premium subsidies for commercial insurance, or co-pays versus no-copays, or total population insurance coverage versus limiting costs, etc. Surveying for plans that are not fully understood by respondents and also that keep changing may make us feel like we know something, but in reality we learned nothing of value.

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