Election 2020

Despite COVID-19, Poll Finds Voters Are Split On Health Care

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation Poll, Democrats rank coronavirus as their number one concern – for Republicans, it’s a distant fourth place.

During her first run for Congress in 2018, Democratic U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas' 7th Congressional District made protecting the Affordable Care Act one of the signature issues of her campaign against long-time Republican incumbent John Culberson.

Fletcher beat Culberson by five percentage points. She credited the win in large part to her stance on health care. And she told Houston Public Media she sees it as just as important an issue this year.

"Our health care is on the ballot this year," Fletcher said. "I think that it is again at the top of everyone's mind, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic."

And not just because of the pandemic. She said health care is on the ballot because Republicans put it there.

"Unfortunately, it is our state of Texas that's leading the charge in terms of trying to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act," Fletcher said. "But we know that the Trump administration has refused to defend that law in court, that the president has said he does not support the Affordable Care Act and that the top of the ticket matters."

Texas is suing to strike down the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court is due to hear the case one week after Election Day. Democrats up and down the ballot are making health care an issue, focusing on the importance of insurance coverage to Texans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But while health care is a crucial issue for Democratic voters right now, it remains less of a concern for Republican voters.

That's according to a recent national poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that with health care — as with so many other issues — the electorate is polarized.

"What we found is for Democratic voters, the coronavirus is incredibly important to them. It's their top issue heading into the 2020 election," said Ashley Kirzinger, associate director of public opinion and survey research for the foundation. "For Republican voters, it's less so. You know, a majority of Republican voters say it's the economy that's going to be driving their 2020 vote choice."

The coronavirus polled a distant fourth among registered Republican voters – behind the economy, criminal justice/policing, and immigration.

For independents, it polled third, after the economy and criminal justice/policing.

The survey also found voters were sharply divided in terms of how seriously they viewed the threat of coronavirus going forward.

"For Republican voters, you know, they may have heard the messaging coming out of the conventions last month and, you know, that we're expecting a vaccine, the worst is over, and so now we can move on to fixing the economy," Kirzinger said. "And for Democrats, that message hasn't resonated, right? They still see the coronavirus, that the worst is yet to come and so that we are still kind of in the middle of this outbreak and pandemic."

Such divisions are on full display in another closely watched congressional race in the Houston area: Texas' 2nd Congressional District, where Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw is running for reelection.

"You know people care about their health," Crenshaw said. "People care about recovering from the pandemic. They want their jobs back, and they want a strong economy going forward."

Crenshaw is an outspoken opponent of the Affordable Care Act. He's drawn heavy criticism from Democrats for that, especially from his opponent, attorney and breast cancer survivor Sima Ladjevardian.

"We live in a state that pretty much before the pandemic one out of five Texans didn't have health care, and now it's one out of three. So, it is extremely personal to me," Ladjevardian said. "I think we need to make sure that it's a human right, and we have to make sure that there is universal, high-quality health care for everyone."

Ladjevardian has accused Crenshaw of not taking the pandemic seriously enough. Her supporters have gone a step further: A group of more than 100 doctors have circulated a letter accusing Crenshaw of spreading misleading information about the virus.

"This was at a time in July when numbers were really surging, cases of COVID-19 in the Houston area, Texas as a whole were skyrocketing, and yet it certainly appeared in the media and in social media that the severity and the concern over the pandemic was being downplayed and really diminished, in particular by U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw," said Dr. Christina Propst, a pediatrician who helped organize the letter.

In response, Crenshaw's supporters have circulated a letter of their own – signed by more than 70 doctors, including three current and former state lawmakers – supporting the steps Crenshaw has advised on the pandemic.

As for the notion that he's not taking the pandemic seriously, Crenshaw is having none of it.

"I'm the guy who actually bought 50,000 masks back in March or April, when it was really hard to get masks, and distributed them throughout the community," Crenshaw said. "So, for all the talk and tweeting that my opponent does, she's one of the richest people in Houston, she easily could have done something like that but never did."

Both Dan Crenshaw, the Republican, and Lizzie Fletcher, the Democrat, are currently favored to win reelection.

Correction: A previous version of this story mischaracterized Lizzie Fletcher’s position on health care. She said it was a key issue in the race, not that it would help secure reelection.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required

Share

Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

More Information