HSPH Researchers Track Healthcare Reform in Midterm Voting

To determine the role of health care reform in the midterm elections, two researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed 17 recent polls and found a sharp divide between Republican and Democratic opinions of the legislation passed eight months ago.

As voters headed to the polls yesterday, many pundits and political commentators billed the 2010 midterm congressional elections as a referendum on the major legislation of President Barack Obama’s first two years—particularly health care reform.

In their study, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis Robert J. Blendon and Research Scientist John M. Benson found that 16 percent of Democratic voters wished to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, in contrast to 71 percent of Republicans.

Similarly, the pair found that 72 percent of Republicans were less likely to vote for a candidate due to his or her vote for the legislation, while 67 percent of Democrats were more likely to cast a ballot for an individual for that reason.

Republicans and Democrats have starkly different conceptions of what makes for good health reform: Democrats favor governmental approaches and Republicans favor private sector approaches, according to Benson.


“Democrats’ view of what health care should look like in the next Congress is 1,000 miles apart from the Republicans’ view of what it should look like,” Blendon said.

The study indicates that Republican voters believed that the bill would harm the economy—and given that the economy is a hot-button issue in this election, the health care debate has become even more important.

A total repeal of the health care bill seems unlikely, according to Benson. The researchers point out that even if the Republicans win both the House of Representatives and the Senate, they will be unable to muster enough votes to override a presidential veto. Benson said that Republicans are more likely to defund unpopular sections of the bill.

“On many of these issues, the center has disappeared,” Blendon said. The United States goes through cycles of polarization, he said, but the current political climate is one of the most divided he has seen in his career. Meanwhile, the respective political landscapes of the Democratic and Republican parties have grown increasingly homogenous.

The PPACA includes various provisions such as subsidizing health care, mandating health insurance, establishing health insurance exchanges, and extending coverage for children and young adults.

The HSPH researchers’ article was published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week.