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Dueling polls reach different results on Medicaid expansion support

Detractors of Gov. Jan Brewer's Medicaid expansion proposal protest at her rally at the state Capitol. (Photo by Jeremy Duda/Arizona Capitol Times)

Detractors of Gov. Jan Brewer's Medicaid expansion proposal protest at her rally at the state Capitol. (Photo by Jeremy Duda/Arizona Capitol Times)

Two recent polls on Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan reached substantially differing results, with one showing overwhelming public support and the other reflecting more evenly split public opinion with Republicans standing firmly against it.

A poll commissioned by the Arizona Business Coalition, a pro-expansion group led by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, shows 47 percent of respondents supporting Brewer’s plan, 17 percent opposing it, and 36 percent without an opinion. The live-caller poll of 500 registered voters, conducted by Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies, also showed 45 percent of Republican respondents supporting the plan and 25 percent opposing it.

Jaime Molera, a spokesman for the Arizona Business Coalition, said the poll “dispels the myth” that most Republicans oppose the expansion plan. He said the poll helped assuage the fears of some Republican lawmakers, though not all, who worry that they’ll lose their 2014 GOP primaries if they vote for the expansion.

“We’ve had conversations with a number of members that have seen this information, showed it to them. And I think they were pleasantly surprised and I think they were much more comfortable,” Molera said.

The poll asked respondents about two proposals to increase Medicaid coverage. Respondents were told that the first plan would restore Proposition 204 coverage to childless adults earning up to $11,000 a year at a cost of $450 million to the state, while the second would expand coverage to childless adults earning up to $15,000 a year at an annual cost of $150 million to the state.

When asked to compare the two plans, 52 percent said they supported the second proposal while 21 percent supported the first.  Another 21 percent said the state should do nothing to restore or expand Medicaid funding. Fifty-one percent of the Republican respondents said they were more likely to support the second plan due to Brewer’s support.

Support rose to 52 percent overall and 51 percent among Republican voters when respondents were informed that Brewer supported the proposal. Republicans made up 39 percent of the respondents, compared to 33 percent Democrats and 25 percent independents.

Ten percent of respondents said they identified with the Tea Party. Only 22 percent of those voters supported Brewer’s plan, while 45 percent opposed it.

Molera described as a good sign the combination of Republican support for the plan and the Arizona Business Coalition’s vow to provide election assistance to GOP lawmakers who vote for expansion.

“With the amount of resources we’re going to have to protect those legislators, that’s a pretty good one-two punch,” he said.

While the Public Opinion Strategies poll showed good news for Republican lawmakers, another poll by Colorado-based Magellan Strategies had much different news.

The Magellan poll showed marginal support for the Medicaid plan, with 41 percent of respondents supporting the plan and 37 percent opposing it. The 4 percent margin of support fell just outside the poll’s 3.44 percent margin of error.

The auto-dial poll of 812 registered voters, which was conducted by Colorado-based Magellan Strategies, also showed a majority of Republicans opposing the expansion plan.   A majority also said they would be less likely to vote for a lawmaker who votes for it. Sixty-three percent of Republican respondents, who made up 35 percent of the poll, said they would be less likely to reelect a legislator who voted for the plan, while 72 percent of the GOP voters said they’d be less likely to reelect a lawmaker who voted to fund the expansion with a new tax on hospitals.


In a polling memo, David Flaherty of Magellan Strategies wrote that Republicans who voted for expansion could make themselves vulnerable to a primary challenge.


“If I was a Republican incumbent, I would be concerned as I navigate my decision on the expansion of Medicaid, in whatever shape or form that may come in,” Flaherty told the Arizona Capitol Times.


Flaherty said the client who commissioned the poll does not want to be identified.


The disparity in the numbers may be attributable to the way the two polls’ questions were worded.


The Public Opinion Strategies poll asked respondents whether they support Brewer’s “Medicaid plan to provide health coverage to more low-income adults under the national health care reform law.” The poll opened by explaining that Medicaid is a federal and state government program to provide health care to children, low-income families, low-income elderly people and the disabled, and asked respondents how familiar they were with Brewer’s plan.


By contrast, the Magellan poll asked respondents whether they supported Brewer’s plan, which it described as “the expansion of Medicaid in order to implement the federal government’s health care system.” A follow-up question asked if respondents support or oppose “the full implementation of Obamacare.”

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