» Poll: Policy Issues and the 2019 Legislative Session
The newest Meredith Poll explored North Carolina voter opinions on political issues including health care, distracted driving, and the direction of the country and North Carolina.
Voters Divided on Health Care
On the topic of health care, voters were asked their opinions on the government’s responsibility to provide health care coverage. North Carolinians are divided on this issue. Just under half (49.6%) feel that it is the government’s (state and/or federal) responsibility to provide health care coverage to all citizens, while 38.3 percent do not believe that health care coverage is the government’s responsibility. Not surprisingly, this is a very partisan issue with almost three-quarters of Democrats (73.7%) thinking health care coverage is the responsibility of the government, while only 27.6% of Republicans feel the same way. Just under half of independents support the idea that health care coverage is a government responsibility. People of color support the idea of health care coverage as a government responsibility (61.9% of Black people, 62% of others) and women are more supportive than men (54% v. 43.1%). Younger voters (58.1% of those under 35) are more in favor of health care coverage being a government responsibility than are older North Carolinians (39.3% of the Silent Generation).
Meredith Poll Director David McLennan predicts this issue will continue to divide voters.
“The battle over Obamacare clearly demonstrated the partisan divide on health care in the United States,” McLennan said. “As many candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination argue for some version of universal health care, the partisan battles over health care should continue to escalate.”
Single payer versus the current system of health care coverage
With the number of Democratic presidential candidates arguing for some version of universal health care (single payer, Medicare for All, etc.), the Meredith Poll asked about people’s preferences for health care reform. Respondents were asked if they wanted the country to move toward a single payer system or to revise the current system, including the Affordable Care Act. State residents are very divided with more citizens (42%) wanting to keep the current system and reform it, versus have a single payer (government) system (32.5%). Even when a follow-up question was asked about having to increase taxes to pay for a single payer system, the support stayed constant. Surprisingly, support for revising the current system was popular with both Democrats (50%) and Republicans (54%). The only group in North Carolina that favored a single payer health care system over the current system was made up of those with the least education. For almost a third of North Carolinians, they indicated they did not know enough to indicate an opinion.
“Health care is confusing to most citizens and, despite the recent media coverage of things like Medicare for All, many citizens don’t know enough to support radical changes in the current system,” said McLennan. “Candidates running for president in North Carolina in 2020 on the platform of Medicare for All or a similar idea will have challenges convincing North Carolina voters to support such a change.”
Almost three-quarters of North Carolinians (75.5%) have a favorable view of Medicare, with just under 15 percent having an unfavorable opinion. Medicare, in its current configuration does not appear to be a partisan issue, as 81 percent of Democrats, 69.2 percent of Republicans, and 77.2% of unaffiliated voters report being very favorable or somewhat favorable about the federal program. Across other demographic groups, there is even less variance, meaning that gender, age, income, geography, and educational levels do not affect the support for Medicare.
When asked about allowing people under the age of 65 to buy into Medicare–a policy solution advanced by several national political figures–North Carolinians become more divided. Although over 60 percent (61.9%) of all respondents favor this plan, over two-thirds of Democrats (68.6%) support this plan, but less than half of the Republican respondents (49.2%). Among other demographic groups, younger citizens favor this more than older citizens, as do less educated citizens (90.9% of those without a high school diploma) as compared to those with higher education levels (43.2% of those with a graduate or professional degree).
“As an over 50-year-old social safety net program for seniors and those with disabilities, Americans have gotten used to the program in its current configuration. Democrats and Republicans alike expect the program to be there for them,” said McLennan. “By most measure, it is a successful program. However, when Democrats, in particular, talk about expanding Medicare to citizens 50 or 55 years of age, this creates divisions. For some, their resistance is ideological, while others who have health care coverage options, like those with graduate degrees, it is a question of quality.”
Compared with Medicare, Medicaid is a more controversial program. Opinions are divided on partisan and income lines. Although almost two-thirds of North Carolinians have a favorable opinion of the program for low income citizens and just over half of the respondents (53.3%) think the program is working well in the state, Democrats have a much higher favorability rating for the program (81.9%) than do Republicans (48.1%). Likewise, those at lower income levels are much more favorable about the program (80%) than those at the highest incomes (48.2%). In terms of how Medicaid is working in the state, almost a third of North Carolinians indicate that they do not know whether the program is working well.
Democrats, including Governor Roy Cooper, are in favor of expanding Medicaid coverage in the state and support a bill filed in the General Assembly. Citizen support for this bill is very much divided on partisan, as well as other demographic, lines. Almost three quarters of Democrats (74.2%) support the expansion, while just over a third of Republicans (34.1%) do so. Blacks (75%) and other racial and ethnic groups (63.3%) support this expansion at a much greater rate than do Whites (48%). Younger citizens (62.2%) support this at a higher rate than do seniors (37.5%), most likely reflecting their political partisanship. It is education where the starkest contrast occurs. 100 percent of those with less than a high school diploma indicated their support for expanding Medicaid, while 43.2 percent of those with graduate or professional degrees supported it.
Some Republicans in the General Assembly want to attach a work requirement to any expansion of government coverage for health care. Although generally popular, there are some differences. Just over half of Democrats (54.6%) would support a plan with a work requirement, but almost 80 percent of Republicans would do so.
“Medicaid expansion is a very controversial topic in states like North Carolina. Not only does opposition come from Republicans, which is to be expected, it comes from other segments of the population, like highly educated citizens and older citizens,” McLennan said. “The best chance for expansion appears to be if a work requirement is attached to it, as most North Carolinians see health benefits, for citizens able to work, being tied to their search for employment.”
The Meredith Poll also asked voters to share their opinions on the need for a law to combat distracted driving. Nearly 80 percent (79.4%) of North Carolinians feel that distracted driving is such a significant issue that the legislature needs to pass a law to reign it in. There were no differences based on partisan affiliation, gender, age, geography, income level, or education. This belief is based on the fact that a large majority of North Carolinians (86.4%) report seeing people driving while holding their mobile phones some or most of the time they are behind the wheel. The same large percentage report that drivers holding their phones exhibit unsafe driving practices such as speeding and drifting out of their lanes. Again, there were no differences across demographic groups.
Some North Carolina lawmakers are pushing for a “hands-free” driving law as a way to cut down on distracted driving. A large percentage of North Carolina residents (82.1%) support a law that would only allow drivers to use mobile devices in a hands-free manner. Support for this type of law cuts across demographic groups with only those with graduate or professional degrees having a significant percentage of their respondents (27.3%) objecting to this type of law.
In terms of punishment for violations of the hands-free law, most North Carolinians (56.6%) think that a modest fine in the neighborhood of $100 for first-time offenders is appropriate. Just over a quarter (26.6%) think higher fines for first-time offenders is appropriate. In a separate question about the use of insurance points for violators of the hands-free law, just over half of the state’s residents think that a fine is sufficient punishment and just over one-third (36.8%) think insurance should be affected. The responses for both of these questions did not vary significantly across demographic groups.
“North Carolinians believe that distracted driving needs to be treated like other traffic offenses, such as speeding, with similar punishments,” McLennan said.
Voter Satisfaction with Direction of the U.S. and North Carolina
North Carolinians are very dissatisfied with the direction of the country (32.1% satisfied v. 58.1% dissatisfied) with Republicans being the only demographic group with more than a 50% level of satisfaction (57%). Democrats, people of color, and women are particularly dissatisfied. Responses to this question are not significantly different from those found in the Meredith Poll last spring.
“Given the hyper-partisan nature of politics in Washington and the failure of Congress and the president to pass relatively few bills that deal with issues that citizens care about, there is no surprise that people feel unhappy,” McLennan said. “It is also not surprising that Republicans are more satisfied than Democrats considering that Republicans still control the White House and the U.S. Senate.”
North Carolina residents are slightly more satisfied with the direction of the state (41.2% satisfied, 44% dissatisfied). Republicans are more satisfied with the direction of the state than other partisan groups (57% of Republicans are satisfied, 30.4% of Democrats are satisfied, and 39.3% of unaffiliated voters are satisfied). Young people and those with a graduate or professional degree report higher levels of satisfaction than do their older counterparts or those with less than a college degree.
“The fact that North Carolinians are more satisfied with the direction of the state, as compared to the country, is not surprising, since this gap has existed since we started surveying state residents,” McLennan said. “What is surprising is that the overall satisfaction level with the direction of the state has fallen by five percentage points since this time last year. Several things may have caused this decline–natural disasters, the recent midterm election results, or even the contagious nature of Washington politics.”
About The Meredith Poll
The Meredith College Poll conducted a dual mode (email and phone) sample of 660 registered North Carolina voters from February 24-28, 2019. The survey’s margin of error is +/-4.5%. Meredith College students administer the survey as part of the College’s commitment to civic engagement.