Poll: Americans Support Children's Health Program

Despite President Bush's veto two weeks ago, seven in ten Americans still support continuing and expanding SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

That's according to a new poll by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Support for reauthorizing and expanding SCHIP didn't fade much even after people heard the strongest arguments for and against adding 4 million children at a cost of $35 billion. Support for the plan stayed at 65 percent overall.

The telephone survey of 1,527 randomly selected adults was conducted between Oct. 8 to 13. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Partisan Views on SCHIP

The poll found a large partisan divide on SCHIP, but it also found a good deal more bipartisanship than on issues such as Iraq.

Democrats overwhelmingly favored reauthorization (82 percent), as did independents (69 percent). But Republicans were very divided: A narrow majority (54 percent) said they support the expansion, while 41 percent were opposed.

Even in the face of bipartisan support, those seeking to override the president's veto may fall short of success. The poll shows that 64 percent of Americans favor an override. A two-thirds majority in both chambers is required for the bill to become law. A House vote is scheduled for Thursday.

GOP Split on SCHIP

Though a slim majority of Republicans support expanding SCHIP, Republicans stay loyal to the President when it comes to "what's next": 56 percent say they approve of the decision to veto the bill and 61 percent say Congress should not override it.

Looking at different groups of Republicans showed an interesting split. Half of conservative Republicans opposed expansion, but moderate Republicans favored it by a better than two to one margin. On the flip side, a strong majority of conservative Republicans (68 percent) backed Bush's veto, while moderate Republicans were divided (41 percent approve; 44 percent disapprove).

There's a gender split in the GOP too. Republican women were more likely to support SCHIP than men. Men were more likely to approve of President Bush's veto (62 percent vs. 49 percent) and men were more likely than women to say they see the expansion as a step toward government run health care (58 percent vs. 44 percent).

More Government?

Two-thirds of Americans overall think that the government is doing "too little" in providing health insurance to children who don't have it. This includes a majority among men and women, among every age group and among every income group.

The poll also found that Americans are more concerned about poor children needing health insurance than about middle-class kids inappropriately getting benefits. Overall, 55 percent say they worry that the law won't go far enough and some children who need insurance won't get it, compared with 33 percent who worry the law will go too far and provide benefits to some who could otherwise afford it.

The poll found that four in ten agreed with President Bush that the SCHIP expansion is a step toward government-run health care. But half of those polled thought that that result would be a positive development. Overall, only about one in five see the expansion in the same terms as the President — as an undesired step toward nationalized health insurance.

Language in the Debate

Much of the SCHIP debate has focused on income levels because states use income to determine who qualifies for SCHIP and who doesn't. Two-thirds say states should continue to set their own eligibility standards based on income.

But how those income levels are presented to people makes a difference. When asked to judge whether families making $40,000, $60,000 or $80,000 should qualify SCHIP, the poll got different answers than when the phrases "two times the federal poverty level," "three times the federal poverty level," or "four times the federal level" were substituted for numeric income levels.

More people (43 percent) were likely to support SCHIP for families at "three times the poverty level" than families at the roughly equivalent $60,000 per year (32 percent).

That makes a difference when political leaders are choosing language to frame the debate. Democrats seem to be the group most influenced by using the "three times poverty" description instead of $60,000 per year, according to our poll.

How Poor is Poor?

The NPR/Kaiser/Harvard poll also looked at where the public draws the line between poor and middle class. Families making $40,000 per year are not necessarily viewed as poor, though a family of four making $30,000 a year is definitely considered poor. But those at $40,000 aren't considered middle class, either — roughly six in 10 said those making between $50,000 and $60,000 were middle class; only four in 10 said that hose at $40,000 were middle class.

These attitudes may affect the political support for the current SCHIP bill and the crucial question of who should qualify. Seven in 10 Americans said a family of four making $40,000 would not be able to buy its own health insurance policy and nearly as many say they should be eligible for SCHIP.

Zooming in a little closer on these results, Americans' view of what's rich and what's poor varies by where they live. Looking at people living in the 10 states with the highest cost of living, only 29 percent viewed a family of four making $40,000 as middle class. Compare that with people living in the rest of the country, where 46 percent view $40,000 as middle class.

By Joe Neel, for the NPR/Kaiser/Harvard Poll

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