More Americans Trust Biden to Lead US Health Care System, West Health-Gallup Poll Finds

October 8, 2020

Results showed variation by age, gender, and partisan affiliation. But there's agreement on the need to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

With millions already turning in ballots ahead of November 3, a poll from West Health-Gallup finds that a majority of Americans trust former vice president Joe Biden to lead the US health care system over President Donald Trump.

More than half (52%) of the respondents said they trusted Biden, the Democrat, more, while 39% say they trust Trump, the Republican. Biden’s results on the health care question mirror the historically large edge he appears to enjoy in other national polls; however, that lead is not insurmountable, given the challenges of the Electoral College and the uncertainties of an election that will involve more voting by mail than ever.

The poll was taken in the 2 days after the first presidential debate on September 29, but before Trump revealed he had tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). That timing could be important, as the 1500 adult respondents, which included debate viewers and some nonviewers, felt that managing the pandemic was the top issue for them as they head to the polls (67%).

Lowering the cost of health care comes close behind (66%), while 45% say a candidate’s ability to lower the cost of drugs is among the most important issues, or the most important.

The gap grows among younger adults aged 18 to 29. Among young adults, 62% say they trust Biden on health care issues, compared with only 25% who support Trump’s leadership of the health care system. Biden’s lead falls to within 2 percentage points among adults 65 and older (48% vs 46%).

“Americans need to trust their leaders to do the right thing when it comes to managing the U.S. healthcare system both during and after a pandemic,” said Tim Lash, chief strategy officer of West Health. “Unfortunately, at least when it comes to lowering the cost of health care, Americans have been burned in the past with empty promises from politicians and sky-high medical bills from hospitals, insurers and pharmacy counters.”

Although health care has ranked as important issue among voters for decades, it has risen to the top in the past 2 election cycles as Trump has attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At a similar stage in 2018, which saw historic gains for Democrats in the House of Representatives, a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found that health care was the most important issue for 71% of voters.

Besides the challenges of COVID-19, which has caused the deaths of more than 210,000 Americans, the prospect of a repeal of the ACA seems possible. Trump has nominated conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died September 18. The administration backs overturning the ACA in the case California v Texas, which is now before the court.

The poll’s health care findings among those aged 18 to 29 might be affected by the fact that overturning the ACA would result in the end of a provision that has allowed young adults to stay on family coverage until they turn 26; this benefit is now 10 years old and one of the most popular parts of the law, along with the provision that requires health plans to cover preexisting conditions.

Besides differences by age, the poll also found the electorate split along gender and partisan lines: Democrats overwhelmingly trust Biden on health care (95%), while Republicans trust Trump (88%) and Independents are divided, 47% for Biden and 40% for Trump. Women trust Biden over Trump (58% to 32%), while men are more evenly split (Biden, 46%, to Trump, 48%).

Voters now view the importance of battling COVID-19 through a partisan lens. It’s the most important issue for 94% of Democrats but only 41% of Republicans and 64% of Independents.

The one area where there is bipartisan agreement is the lowering the cost of drugs: it’s a priority for 49% of Democrats, 41% of Republicans, and 44% of Independents.

“Joe Biden has a clear advantage as the candidate Americans prefer to lead healthcare and create a more racially equitable healthcare system in the United States during this global pandemic,” said Dan Witters, Gallup senior researcher. “While some groups were more split, US adults are generally aligned in Biden’s favor by wide margins. It will be interesting to see how this plays out at the ballot box in November.”