Critical Condition

When Republicans Talk About Health Care

their numbers go up. Gary Andres writes

For nearly two decades–and probably longer–Republicans lagged Democrats when it came to voter trust on health care. But for a variety of reasons, that deficit is easing.

“People seem ready to hear our message,” Congressman Dave Camp, the senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, told me this week. “They are paying closer attention because of the president’s emphasis on the issue, but we’ve stepped up our efforts as well.”

He’s right. Voters normally ignore the GOP on health care because Democrats talk about the issue and Republicans don’t. Yet as Mr. Camp notes, that’s changing: in part because the GOP is now engaging on this issue. And it’s starting to have an impact.

Since January 1991, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll periodically has asked Americans which party they thought would do a better job on the issue. Over the years, Democrats have always held a sizable–usually double-digit–advantage. This past January, the poll showed Democrats with a 31-point edge. Interestingly, the gap in voter trust was the smallest back in 1993–when Republicans were forced to discuss their own ideas as alternatives to the Clinton health plan.

Rasmussen’s surveys show a similar pattern over the last couple of years. Last July, for example, the GOP lagged by 21 points when asked which party voters “trusted” more on the issue. And as recently as May, the Democratic advantage stood at 18 points.

For these reasons, last week’s Rasmussen survey finding a much narrower four-point gap was significant. Democrats now lead 46 percent to 42 percent in “trust” on health care. Other polls, like the Washington Post survey released this week, show Republican gains on the health care issue.