March 19, 2009

Support For Health Care Overhaul, But It’s Not 1993

Stable Views of Stem Cell Research

Overview

Most Americans believe that the nation’s health care system is in need of substantial changes. But there is less support for completely rebuilding the health care system than there was in April 1993, during the early stage of the Clinton administration’s unsuccessful effort to revamp health care.

Still, the public continues to favor the government guaranteeing health insurance for all citizens, even if it means raising taxes. About six-in-ten (61%) favor a government guarantee of health insurance, which is little changed from last August (63%).

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted March 9-12 among 1,308 adults reached on landlines and cell phones finds that a large majority of Americans support sweeping changes in health care. Four-in-ten (40%) say the health care system needs to be completely rebuilt, while 36% think it needs fundamental changes. Only about one-in-five (21%) believe that the health care system works pretty well and needs only minor changes. In April 1993, a majority of Americans (55%) said the health care system needed to be completely rebuilt.

While there is less support across the board for completely rebuilding the system than in 1993, the pattern of opinion is similar. As was the case 16 years ago, far more Democrats and independents than Republicans say wholesale changes are needed. About half of Democrats (49%) say the system needs to be completely rebuilt, compared with 39% of independents and 25% of Republicans. People with no more than a high school education (48%) also are far more likely to favor a complete overhaul than are those with some college education (35%) or college graduates (29%).

During the Clinton administration, support for completely rebuilding the health care system peaked in the spring of 1993 and declined subsequently. By June 1994, just 37% said the health care system needed to be completely rebuilt.

Guaranteeing Health Insurance

Opinions about whether the government should guarantee health insurance for all citizens have changed little since last summer. But partisan differences over this issue have increased, as Republican support for this proposal has declined. Just 32% of Republicans now favor providing a government guarantee of health insurance if it means raising taxes, down 11 points since last August. Opinion among independents (60% favor) and Democrats (82%) has remained relatively stable.

People 65 and older also are less supportive of providing a government guarantee for health insurance if it means that taxes would increase (50% now vs. 58% last August). By contrast, African American support for this proposal has increased over this period, from 66% to 78%.

Views of Stem Cell Research

Last week, President Obama signed an executive order reversing the Bush Administration’s limits on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. Currently, 54% think it is more important to conduct embryonic stem cell research that might result in new medical cures than it is to avoid destroying the potential life of embryos involved in this research. About a third (32%) favor protecting the potential life of embryos over pursuing new medical research.

Opinions about stem cell research have been fairly stable in recent years. However, since 2006, when President Bush issued his first presidential veto to block legislation providing for expanded funding for stem cell research, partisan and ideological divisions over the issue have grown substantially.

In 2006, Republicans were evenly divided over whether it is more important to conduct stem cell research (45%) or more important to not destroy the potential life of human embryos involved in this research (43%). A year later, 37% of Republicans favored stem cell research while 50% were opposed. The balance of opinion is similar currently; 36% of Republicans place a greater priority on conducting stem cell research while a majority (53%) say it is more important to not destroy the potential life of embryos.

The proportion of conservative Republicans who support stem cell research declined from 38% in 2006 to 29% in 2007 and 24% currently. By contrast, the opinions of moderate and liberal Republicans have been stable (58% in 2006, 58% in 2007, 62% currently).

Support for stem cell research fell among independents between 2006 and 2007 (from 65% to 55%); today, 53% of independents support stem cell research. Most Democrats have continued to support this research; 69% now say it is more important to conduct embryonic stem cell research that might result in medical cures, up nine points from two years ago.

The issue of stem cell research also continues to divide along religious lines. Just 29% of white evangelical Protestants now say it is more important to conduct embryonic stem cell research that to not destroy the potential life of embryos involved in the research; that is little changed from 2007 (31%), but is far lower than percentage of white evangelicals expressing this view in 2006 (44%).

For the first time since 2002, fewer than half of white non-Hispanic Catholics (46%) favor stem cell research; in 2006 and 2007, solid majorities of white Catholics said it was more important to conduct this research than to avoid destroying the potential human life of embryos involved in stem cell research (58% in 2006, 59% in 2007). Far fewer white Catholics who attend church at least weekly support stem cell research than do those who attend less frequently; this also is the case among white evangelical Protestants.

More Aware, More Supportive

As in recent years, those who say they have heard a lot about the issue of stem cell research are more likely to support it than those who say they are less aware of the subject.

Overall, 43% of the public says they have heard a lot about the stem cell issue, close to half (47%) have heard a little and 9% have heard nothing at all. Among the most attentive group – those who have heard a lot – 62% support stem cell research, compared with 51% of those who have heard a little about the issue and just 36% of those who have heard nothing about it. Roughly equal proportions of Republicans, Democrats and independents and those who attend worship services weekly or less often have heard a lot about the issue.