Poll Finds More Americans Trust Biden to Lead Healthcare System

October 8, 2020

Results show an electorate deeply divided by age, gender, and partisanship.

With Election Day less than a month away, a poll from West Health-Gallup finds that a majority of Americans trust former Vice President Joe Biden to lead the US health care system.

Overall, 52% of the respondents said they trusted Biden, the Democrat, compared with 39% who say they trust President Donald Trump, the Republican, on health care issues. A closer look, however, shows that Americans are deeply divided, with Biden favored by younger voters and women and enjoying near universal support among Democrats.

There’s no partisan divide on one thing: the need to lower drug costs.

The poll was taken in the 2 days after the first presidential debate September 29, but before Trump revealed he had tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). That timing could be important, as 67% of the 1500 adult respondents, which included debate viewers and some non-viewers, felt that managing the pandemic was the top issue for them as the head to the polls.

Lowering the cost of health care comes close behind (66%), while 45% say a candidate’s ability to lower the cost of drugs is among the most important issues, or the most important.

“Americans need to trust their leaders to do the right thing when it comes to managing the U.S. healthcare system both during and after a pandemic,” said Tim Lash, chief strategy officer of West Health. “Unfortunately, at least when it comes to lowering the cost of health care, Americans have been burned in the past with empty promises from politicians and sky-high medical bills from hospitals, insurers and pharmacy counters.”

The findings on the health care question mirror Biden’s edge in national polls, but experts such as Nate Silver warn that the lead is not insurmountable. The year 2020 is like no other, given the challenges of more Americans voting by mail and safety issues posed by COVID-19.

Biden’s lead on the healthcare question is larger among young adults age 18 to 29; 62% say they trust the former vice president on health care issues, compared with only 25% who support Trump. Biden barely leads among adults 65 and older (48% vs. 46%).

Healthcare has risen to the top rung among issues on voters’ minds in the past two election cycles with threats to the repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At a similar stage in 2018, a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found that healthcare was the most important issue for 71% of voters. Two years ago, Democrats made historic gains in the House of Representatives.

This year, voters go the polls with COVID-19 having caused the deaths of more than 210,000 Americans and the prospect of a repeal of the ACA. Trump has nominated conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died September 18. The administration backs overturning the ACA in the case California v. Texas, which is now before the court.

Young adults would be directly affected if the ACA were overturned, as this would end a provision that has allowed young adults to stay on family coverage until they turn 26. It is one of the most popular parts of the law, along with the provision that requires health plans to cover pre-existing conditions.

Besides differences by age, the poll also found the electorate split along gender and partisan lines: Democrats overwhelming trust Biden on health care (95%), while Republicans trust Trump (88%) and Independents are divided, 47% for Biden and 40% for Trump. Women trust Biden over Trump (58% to 32%), while men are more evenly split (Biden, 46%; to Trump, 48%).

“Joe Biden has a clear advantage as the candidate Americans prefer to lead healthcare and create a more racially equitable healthcare system in the United States during this global pandemic,” said Dan Witters, Gallup senior researcher. “While some groups were more split, US adults are generally aligned in Biden’s favor by wide margins. It will be interesting to see how this plays out at the ballot box in November.”

Voters differ along partisan lines on the importance of battling COVID-19. It’s the most important issue for 94% of Democrats but only 41% of Republicans and 64% of Independents.

The one area where there is bipartisan agreement is the lowering the cost of drugs: it’s a priority for 49% of Democrats, 41% of Republicans, and 44% of Independents.