Unknown Romney Health Plan Polls Poorly

Today we have a bit of fresh evidence of why Mitt Romney might not want to get into a sustained debate over health care policy, aside from all the obvious reasons involving his record in Massachusetts and his campaign’s belief that a narrow focus on economic indicators is the winning ticket. A new ABC/WaPo survey shows that his health care “plans” polls more poorly than Obama’s. While the favorable/unfavorable rating for the president’s approach is 45/48, Mitt’s comes in at 30/47. Among putative swing voters, neither candidate’s “plans” rate that well: Obama’s are rated at 38/52 by indies; Romney’s at 26/46. Among self-identified moderates, however, Obama’s health care approach gets into positive territory at 48/44, while Romney’s is panned 29/52.

What’s most interesting about these results, of course, is that Romney’s “plans” for health care policy are virtually unknown (or so I would assume, since he never talks about them; the ABC/WaPo poll provides no information as to content for either candidate’s “plans”), aside from not being Obama’s, and reflecting a vague “market-oriented” philosophy.

But something tells me that an extensive public airing of Romney’s actual proposals for health care policy might not exactly lift their popularity. Perhaps a state-by-state approach to covering the uninsured would be vaguely popular, but that might depend on where voters happen to live. Mitt’s professed commitment to restricting pre-existing condition exclusions will look less impressive once it becomes obvious he is essentially endorsing current law. Interstate health insurance sales won’t be a crowd-pleaser once people begin to understand that insurers would flock en masse to states that let them cherry-pick customers to their hearts’ delight. A proposed shift from tax incentives for employer-based coverage to individual coverage will likely frighten those happy with their existing insurance. The usual conservative health policy pet rocks like medical savings accounts and “tort reform” won’t move the needle any more than they have in the past.

And then there’s Romney’s embrace of the Ryan Budget, with its Medicare vouchers and Medicaid block grants. We already know this stuff doesn’t poll well.

The more basic reality is that Americans like most features of the Affordable Care Act other than the individual mandate, and that’s the one feature Romney can’t much attack.

So it’s no wonder he’s resisting the demands of conservatives that he turn his campaign into a holy war over health care policy. He’s in a bad position on this subject, which can probably only get worse.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.