Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, recently stated in an article by Vox that healthcare was the most important issue in the United States. Sen. Murphy and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) are proposing legislation that would allow employers and individuals to obtain healthcare coverage through Medicare. Murphy’s claim that healthcare is the number one issue underscores how often politicians use polls as the ultimate measure of public opinion, especially when they’re proposing legislation on that topic.
Whether or not Murphy’s claim is true depends on the type and time of the polling data cited. When Murphy’s spokesperson was asked to back up the senator’s claim, she cited several polls showing healthcare as the top issue. However, three of the polls cited were from 2017, which was at the height of the battle to repeal the Affordable Care Act. During that time, healthcare was at the forefront of public attention.
A fourth poll from the Huffington Post appears to show more updated information that might support Murphy’s claim. According to the poll, 30 percent of respondents said that healthcare was their top issue. The poll asked each respondent to pick two issues from a list of some of the top issues in America. The economy, typically at the top of the list during political campaigns, tied for second along with gun policies.
The spokesperson for Murphy also cited a Gallup poll that showed healthcare was what most Americans worried about. That poll showed 55 percent of participants worried most about the availability and cost of healthcare. Crime, violence and the budget deficit were all tied at 51 percent. Analysts who closely follow polls that rate the most important issues facing Americans point out that a respondent’s top worry is different from a top issue.
Analysts say another poll issued by Gallup more accurately reflects the top problems in America. Gallup conducts this poll once a month and asks respondents a direct question: “What is the top problem facing the country?” According to the most recent results, Americans cited their dissatisfaction with the federal government as the most important issue. Immigration ranked second, followed by race relations and gun control. Healthcare did not crack the top five, with only 4 percent of Americans citing healthcare as the nation’s top problem.
Whether or not Murphy’s statement holds water depends on which way the political winds are blowing. The top stories of today often become the nation’s top problems, especially in the wake of significant events, such as mass shootings. But media spotlight changes quickly. The nation’s top problems – the economy and national security, for instance – remain in the top spot regardless of media attention.
When respondents are not asked to choose from a list and instead asked a direct question, poll results are clearer and usually reveal the actual top problems facing Americans, according to insight from the Washington Post. Based on this method of polling, it may not be fair to say that healthcare is the single greatest issue facing Americans – though it’s certainly a problem.