Both Parties Have Strengths in "SCHIP" Debate

Democrats generally preferred, but Bush's counterarguments have support

 

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The Beltway debate over a bill reauthorizing federal funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is moving beyond the attempt to override President George W. Bush's veto -- a vote that is likely to fall short of the necessary two-thirds majority -- to partisan jockeying for control of the ensuing spin cycle. Democrats are highlighting the catastrophic consequences of stripping medical coverage from millions of children, while Republicans are emphasizing the need to work toward a compromise bill that will save the program.

At this point, the Democrats seem to be winning -- though not dominating -- the public relations battle. According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Oct. 12-14, about half of Americans say they have more confidence in the Democrats in Congress than in Bush to handle the issue. Only one-third of Americans choose Bush, while another 15% have no preference.

That preference for the Democrats reflects Americans' unvarnished perception of the children's health bill. Other questions in the survey that provide information about Bush's arguments against the Democratic bill show more support for his position.

The SCHIP program was established in 1997 as a way to provide health insurance to children who fall into the gap between eligibility for Medicare and being able to afford private health insurance (generally defined as those with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty line, or about $41,000 for a family of four).

The Democrats' 2007 reauthorization bill for SCHIP, passed earlier this year with bipartisan support, would have more than doubled the current annual budget for the program by raising eligibility to those earning up to $62,000, and nearly doubling the number of children enrolled by 2012. Bush vetoed the bill on Oct. 3 on the grounds that it would provide encouragement for people to leave private health insurance and effectively be a step toward socialized medicine. His proposed alternative would continue funding at the current income level.

When the funding difference between the Democratic bill and Bush's plan is described to respondents (see precise wording of the question below), a slight majority say they prefer Bush's plan.

It should be noted that this question gauges Americans' reaction to the difference in eligibility thresholds for the two plans. A different result might be obtained if respondents were also presented with arguments about the positive and negative consequences of expanding the program.

Americans are also generally sympathetic to Bush's concern about the program leading to socialized medicine. Fifty-five percent say they are very or somewhat concerned that expanding the program would create an incentive for middle-class Americans to drop their private health insurance to enroll in the program. Another 25% say they are not too concerned about this, while only 17% say they are not at all concerned.

Partisan Split

Republicans and Democrats tend to side with their own political leaders in the SCHIP funding debate. But an interesting distinction is seen in levels of support for Bush vs. the Democrats across Gallup's two different measures of the bill to reauthorize the program.

When asked simply whether they have more confidence in Bush or the Democrats in Congress to handle the issue, the vast majority of Democrats (88%) say they have greater confidence in the Democrats in Congress, while a much smaller majority of Republicans (61%) choose Bush.

However, this pattern is reversed with the question asking respondents whether they favor the plan with Bush's income limits or the Democrats' income limits. The overwhelming majority of Republicans (90%) say they favor Bush's plan, while about two-thirds of Democrats favor the congressional Democrats' plan.

Meanwhile, the support of independents shifts between the two questions. A majority of independents say they have more confidence in the Democrats' leadership on the issue, but a majority also says they prefer Bush's side in the income limits debate.

 

Comparative Ratings of Bush vs. the Democrats in Congress for Dealing With the
State Children's Health Insurance Program

 

Republican

Independent

Democratic

 

%

%

%

Have Greater Confidence in:

     

Bush

61

28

6

Democrats in Congress

18

54

88

Neither/No opinion

21

17

6

       

More Favored Plan:

     

Bush plan

90

59

25

Democrats in Congress plan

8

33

65

Neither/No opinion

2

7

10

Debate Drawing Moderate Public Attention

Despite the potentially high political stakes involved in passage of the bill, Americans are paying only moderate attention to it. About half are following the story closely, including 17% following it "very closely" and 34% following it "somewhat closely." These attention rates are lower than the average paid to the nearly 200 news stories Gallup has rated since 1991 (with an average of 60% following the stories very or somewhat closely), but are not atypical for public attention to policy issues facing Congress.

There is little to no difference in confidence in Bush vs. the Democrats in Congress or in preference for Bush's vs. the Democrats' income limits, according to attention to the bill.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 12-14, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the 507 national adults in the Form A half-sample and 502 national adults in the Form B half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

35. As you may know, Congress is considering a bill that would increase the number of children eligible for government subsidized health insurance, but the Democrats in Congress and President Bush disagree on how much to increase the program. How closely have you been following the news about this -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

 

 

Very closely

Somewhat closely

Not too closely

Not
at all

No
opinion

           

2007 Oct 12-14

17%

34

30

19

*

* = Less than 0.5%

Q.36 AND Q.37-38 SPLIT SAMPLED

36. (Asked of a half sample) Based on what you have heard or read about this bill, who do you have more confidence in to handle this issue -- [ROTATED: George W. Bush (or) the Democrats in Congress]?

BASED ON 507 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

 

Bush

Democrats

Neither (vol.)

No opinion

         

2007 Oct 12-14

32%

52

10

5

(vol.) = Volunteered response

37. (Asked of a half sample) As you may know, the Democrats want to allow a family of four earning about $62,000 to qualify for the program. President Bush wants most of the increases to go to families earning less than $41,000. Whose side do you favor?

BASED ON 502 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

 

 

Bush

Democrats

Neither (vol.)

No opinion

         

2007 Oct 12-14

52%

40

3

4

(vol). = Volunteered response

38. (Asked of a half sample) How concerned are you that expanding this program would create an incentive for middle class Americans to drop private health insurance for a public program, which some consider to be a step toward socialized medicine? Are you -- very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned, or not concerned at all?

BASED ON 502 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

 

 

Very concerned

Somewhat concerned

Not too concerned

Not concerned at all

No
opinion

           

2007 Oct 12-14

22%

33

25

17

2

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