The bad news for Republicans: Their base doesn’t like their plan for repealing Obamacare, and they don’t think President Donald Trump’s planned tax overhaul will help them.
The good news for Republicans: It might not matter when the 2018 midterms roll around.
That’s a key takeaway from the latest POLITICO-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll, which finds the policy fights consuming Washington aren’t necessarily what’s on voters’ minds.
As Republican leaders struggle to patch together 50 votes for an Obamacare repeal bill in the Senate next week, the poll results indicate the next congressional election may be settled by a range of issues broader than the fight over the 2010 health care law.
“The race, if it was held tomorrow, health care will be one of the big issues, but other issues could decide this race on both sides,” said Bob Blendon, a Harvard expert on health care policy and public opinion who designed the poll with POLITICO.
Trump and Republican leaders have frequently said they need to finish work on Obamacare repeal before moving onto a tax overhaul. But the POLITICO-Harvard poll finds the tax agenda also lacks public support. That could complicate the GOP’s ability to advance an effort that Trump has billed as a cakewalk.
“I think after health care, taxes are gonna be so easy,” Trump told Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson in an interview broadcast Thursday. “Health care is very hard. Health care’s hard because you’ll do something a little bit this way, and you’ll pick up that final vote and you lose four votes over here.”
But the general public — and even Republicans — are pessimistic about Trump’s still-hazy plans for overhauling the tax code. The proposal, largely comprised of tax cuts along with promises to eliminate tax breaks for the wealthy and “special interests,” is favored by just 24 percent of the general public and opposed by 62 percent.
Still, other issues right now hold more weight with voters. Trump’s efforts to protect the country from terrorism (39 percent), his Obamacare replacement effort (37 percent) and his proposed budget (34 percent) will rank among the most important issues when considering which congressional candidate to vote for in 2018, said registered voters surveyed in the poll. Ranking closely behind are allegations about the White House’s involvement with the Russian government, Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants and his ban on travel from some Middle Eastern countries.
The top issue for registered voters who said they plan to vote for a Republican candidate in 2018 is terrorism (47 percent) — well ahead of illegal immigration (32 percent) and Obamacare replacement (31 percent). For registered voters planning to support a Democrat, Obamacare replacement (46 percent) ranks as a top issue just behind allegations of White House ties to Russia and Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change pact.
Both parties see an advantage in the Obamacare repeal effort. For Republicans, it would be the fulfillment of a longtime pledge to scrap an onerous health care law. For Democrats, who are energized by the health care issue after suffering through years of Obamacare attacks, it’s their chance to tie Republicans to an even more unpopular plan.
There’s a clear lack of enthusiasm on the Republican side for their party’s Obamacare replacement — which is being revised and massaged in the tougher-than-expected effort to get it through the Senate. Just 20 percent of Republicans said they would support a plan providing financial assistance for health coverage to a lot fewer people, while about 42 percent would accept a plan subsidizing “somewhat fewer people” that saves taxpayer money. And by a slight margin, Republicans oppose their party’s plans to roll back enrollment in Medicaid, a program covering nearly 75 million low-income Americans.
Only about one in three Republicans favor allowing insurers to charge more to people with pre-existing medical conditions, a practice that was banned by Obamacare and has complicated the repeal effort. Conservative Republicans have sought to ease that protection to bring down health insurance costs for healthier people, but they haven’t been able to craft a policy that would prevent costs from skyrocketing for sick people.
“From the core issue that they’re trying to push, [Republican lawmakers] have lost this battle,” Blendon said. “Their own constituency isn’t with them in this current debate.”
The poll was taken in mid-June, after House Republicans passed their Obamacare replacement and before Senate Republicans released their original bill, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected would result in 22 million fewer people with health insurance over a decade. Senate leaders issued an updated version of the bill on Thursday, with a new CBO score expected early next week.
On taxes, Republicans are about evenly split on Trump’s overhaul, with 40 percent favoring it and 41 percent opposing it. Just 35 percent of Republicans think it will help them and 45 percent said it would make no difference. However, 62 percent think it would help the economy and create more jobs.
Democrats are overwhelmingly against the tax plan, with 85 percent opposed, along with 60 percent of independents.
Meanwhile, a majority of survey respondents disapproved of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty, but opinions were sharply split by party. Just 30 percent favored the decision to leave the landmark 2015 climate accord originally signed by 195 countries, while 53 percent disapproved. However, 65 percent of Republicans favored the decision while 91 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents opposed it.
The survey was conducted by SSRS, an independent research company, for POLITICO and Harvard from June 14-18. It used cellphones and landlines among a nationally representative sample of 1,011 U.S. adults.