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Capitol Ideas column: Biden likes what he sees in health care polling

Joe Biden speaks Wednesday at the opening of his campaign office in Iowa City. The former vice president is considered the front-runner in among the Democrats seeking a presidential nomination. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Joe Biden speaks Wednesday at the opening of his campaign office in Iowa City. The former vice president is considered the front-runner in among the Democrats seeking a presidential nomination. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

By Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau

Joe Biden was pleased to find himself atop another poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers last week.

But he also was pleased with the results of the poll’s question on health care policy.

Biden, the former vice president, has been the leader in most polling on the expansive field of Democratic presidential candidates, both in Iowa and nationally. It was no different last week in a new Monmouth Poll in Iowa that showed Biden as the choice of 28 percent of respondents. Elizabeth Warren was second at 19 percent.

The poll also delved into policy, and one question asked what kind of health care proposal Iowa Democrats prefer.

The top answer, with 56 percent, was a system that allows people to buy into Medicare — a so-called public option. Biden is one of several candidates in the field who has proposed a public option.

Just 21 percent said they prefer a Medicare-for-all system that would place every American on a government-run health care program. Such a proposal has been pitched by candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Those results caught Biden’s eye. He mentioned them to reporters while conducting interviews last week in downtown Des Moines.

There was more good news for Biden on the health care front in the Monmouth poll.

The poll asked Iowa Democrats which candidate’s views on health care come closest to their own. Biden topped that answer with 28 percent, followed by Warren and Sanders, both at 20 percent.

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Those poll results are good news for Biden. In this poll, 55 percent said health care is one of their top two issues, with climate change and the environment the next-highest at 30 percent.

Poll shows some ambiguity

However, Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, thinks the poll results show enough ambiguity to suggest Democrats have not yet made up their minds on which candidate best aligns with their feelings on health care.

“Many voters remain confused on the single most important domestic policy issue of the 2020 race. The Medicare for All crowd has their champions, but the vast majority of voters who want a public option are all over the place,” Murry said in a statement. “Last month’s debates do not appear to have clarified where the candidates stand on health care.”

There is no doubt that health care remains a top priority for Iowa Democrats. The question that remains is whether it will be what pushes them to one candidate over the rest come February — or whether another factor, like electability, outweighs it.

The Monmouth poll was conducted Aug. 1-4 and surveyed 401 likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Warren, Buttigieg surge

If you’re looking for statistical evidence of which candidates may be poised for a surge in the polls, check out the favorability numbers in the Monmouth poll.

From its last poll in April to the new poll released last week, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg showed significant improvement in their overall favorability rating among Iowa Democrats.

Warren in the new poll was rated favorable by 76 percent of Iowa Democrats and unfavorable by 14 percent. That’s a net favorability rating of plus-62 for Warren, an increase of 15 percentage points from her net rating in April.

Buttigieg jumped even higher, gaining 21 percentage points to a plus-57 favorability rating in the new poll.

Those numbers give Warren and Buttigieg the highest net favorability ratings in the Monmouth poll. Now it’s up to their respective campaign organizations to capitalize on that, and perhaps in the next poll their general support will increase as well.

Biden’s net favorability is next-best at plus-54 percent.

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Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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