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Medicare For All Isn’t That Popular — Even Among Democrats

Last week, I noted that Bernie Sanders is winning over Democratic primary voters on health care. Whether you love, hate or are indifferent toward his “Medicare for All” plan, polls show Sanders leading when Democratic voters are asked which candidate they think is best able handle to health care.

The thing is, though — according to new polling from Marist College this week — Sanders’s plan isn’t actually the most popular idea in the field. Instead, that distinction belongs to what Marist calls “Medicare for all that want it,” or what’s sometimes called a public option — something very similar to Joe Biden’s recently unveiled health care plan, which claims to give almost everyone “the choice to purchase a public health insurance option like Medicare.”

In the Marist poll, 90 percent of Democrats thought a plan that provided for a public option was a good idea, as compared to 64 percent who supported a Sanders-style Medicare for All plan that would replace private health insurance. The popularity of the public option also carries over to independent voters: 70 percent support it, as compared to 39 percent for Medicare for All.

Americans want Medicare for All … who want it

Share of respondents who agreed that these versions of a Medicare for All plan were a good idea

Dem. Rep. Ind. Overall
Medicare for All, replacing private insurance 64% 14% 39% 41%
Medicare for All who choose it, allowing private insurance 90 46 70 70

Source: Marist COLLEGE

But none of this is meant to negate what I wrote last week. Sanders’s plan is still fairly popular with Democrats, and there’s more to winning elections than just picking whatever policies happen to poll best; Medicare for All is consistent with the sort of revolutionary change for which Sanders advocates.

At the same time, the public option is potentially a winning issue for Biden, and one that allows him to reinforce some of his core strengths. It offers greater continuity with the legacy of the Obama administration (since the public option is a more gradual change from Obamacare — not to mention, something Obamacare initially tried to include), and allows him to double down on his electability message, since it polls better than eliminating private insurance. That may be why Biden has gone on the offense against Medicare for All.

Stuck in the middle, as I wrote last week, are Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, who (along with other Democrats) have co-sponsored Sanders’s bill rather than developing a health care plan of their own. They aren’t getting credit from voters for leading on health care like Sanders, and they’re also left defending a plan that isn’t as popular as Biden’s among Democrats nor very popular among general election voters. We’re not in the prediction business — that’s a lie, we are — but it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if one or both of them issued their own health care plan within the next few months.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

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