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Poll suggests increasing support for Medicaid expansion, but critic questions wording

August 14, 2013
Arizona Capitol Times
Jeremy Duda

If conservative activists manage to refer Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan to the ballot, their chances of getting voters to overturn it are grim, according to a new poll by the pro-expansion Restoring Arizona organization.

In the poll of 500 high-efficacy voters, which was conducted between Aug. 2-5 by the consulting and lobbying firm HighGround, 68.2 percent of respondents said they probably or definitely support the Medicaid expansion policy passed by the Legislature and signed by Brewer in June. 

Respondents were asked their opinions on the issue after hearing a lengthy description of the Medicaid expansion plan. Among other things, the description said the “federal government will pick up 100 percent of the expanded program costs for the next three years, saving Arizona taxpayers $1.3 billion between now and 2016.’’

Twenty-six percent of respondents opposed the plan, while 5.8 percent did not voice an opinion. The poll has a margin of error of 3 ½ percentage points.

Polling has consistently shown public support for Medicaid expansion. But support has never been as high as it was in the HighGround poll.

A poll conducted by the Virginia-based GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies in late May, weeks before the Legislature approved Medicaid expansion, showed 53 percent of respondents supporting Brewer’s proposal to expand Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System coverage. Another POS poll in April, commissioned by Restoring Arizona, showed 45 percent of respondents supporting expansion and 25 percent opposing it.

Restoring Arizona spokesman Jaime Molera noted that the number of undecided respondents dropped from prior polls, and said that the more people are educated about the Medicaid plan, the more they support it. Molera said the poll also reflected views that the United Republican Alliance of Principled Conservatives, which is attempting to put expansion on the ballot via a citizen referendum, is a fringe group that isn’t representative of the public at large.

“This shows even if they are successful, they would get trounced,” Molera said of the URAPC referendum drive. “The notion that there’s this uproar, that people want to veto this thing is ludicrous.”

Former Sen. Ron Gould, one of the leaders of the URAPC referendum drive, said he didn’t believe the numbers were accurate. He said the sample size was too small for a statewide vote, and noted that the description of the Medicaid plan was generally positive and didn’t include opposition arguments, such as concerns that the federal government won’t live up to its end of the bargain or that future legislators may not uphold the “circuit breaker” that terminates the expansion if federal funding decreases.

“I would say that’s probably a positive-leaning message,” said Gould, a Lake Havasu City Republican. “I don’t really even think the question is on the average voters’ radar yet.”

The poll asked respondents to weigh in on two statements. Nearly 35 percent of respondents agreed with a statement that “Arizona should be doing everything it can to oppose and repeal Obamacare,” and that “the governor and certain members of the Legislature sold out for Obamacare.” Nearly 54 percent, however, agreed with a statement that adopting the Medicaid provision of the Affordable Care Act is best for Arizona.

And respondents were overwhelmingly opposed to GOP activists’ censures of Brewer and pro-expansion legislators. More than 66 percent said they opposed censure votes by the Maricopa County Republican Party and several legislative district GOP organizations, while 21 percent said they supported the censures.

Registered Republicans made up the largest bloc of respondents at 41.6 percent. Thirty-six percent of respondents were Democrats, while 22.4 percent were not affiliated with either major party.

Twenty-two percent identified themselves as “very conservative” and another 16 percent said they were “somewhat conservative.” Self-identified moderates made up 29.8 percent of the respondents, while 13.4 percent said they were “somewhat liberal” and 11.2 percent said they were “very liberal.”

The polling data that Restoring Arizona publicly released did not break down support by party affiliation. But in a press release from the group, HighGround’s Paul Bentz said 92 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of independents supported the Medicaid plan. Republicans were almost evenly split on the issue.

The live-caller poll surveyed 500 voters who have cast ballots in at least two of the last three general elections, including the 2012 presidential election. 

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