Candidates Are Betting Big On Health. Is That What Voters Really Want?

The one thing we know about health care in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race is that it’s a top issue for voters.

The latest Tracking Poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found 24% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said they want to hear the candidates discuss health care. That’s twice the total for the next top issue, climate change; and four times the total for immigration, the No. 3 issue. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The big question, though, is whether that interest will reward a candidate who backs a sweeping, “Medicare for All”-type plan, or a more modest plan like a public option, in which a person can voluntarily join a government health insurance plan.

Polling doesn’t make that clear. On the one hand, Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents in the KFF poll say when it comes to health care, the candidate they trust most is Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (who initially pushed a Medicare for All plan). So, what the candidates now face is a question of strategy and tactics.

Who’s right? There’s no good way to tell until voters go to the polls. But it might surprise people that the last time a health overhaul was a major issue in the Democratic presidential primary race ― in 2008 ― it wasn’t the candidate with the most sweeping plan who emerged as the winner.