By Derek Monson

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Sutherland Institute commissioned a poll by Magellan Strategies that was released yesterday about Utah voters’ support for Medicaid expansion in its various forms, including Governor Gary Herbert’s preferred “Healthy Utah” form of expansion. The question we aimed to address was this: “What do Utah voters think about Medicaid expansion when they are informed about the issue in a way that is comparable to Utah legislators?”

Utah voters’ answer was to reluctantly say “Utah should probably do nothing on expansion for now, and should instead start looking for better ideas.” But before I dig into that, I think it’s important to understand why we thought to commission a poll at all.

Multiple polls on Medicaid expansion in Utah have been published and reported on in the press. These polls reported that somewhere between 70 and 88 percent of Utah voters support either traditional Medicaid expansion, or the Healthy Utah version – overwhelming support by any reasonable standard.

But think for a minute about whether those numbers make any sense. If these numbers are accurate, it means that a higher portion of Utah voters support expanding Medicaid than supported Utah’s marriage amendment in 2004. Now, does anyone really believe that’s true? Yeah, neither did we.

Rather than accepting hard-to-believe polling results at face value, we thought it better to commission a poll that gave more complete information and context to Utah voters about the costs, enrollment, and uncertainties of Medicaid expansion in Utah.

What happened is that voters said that none of the Medicaid expansion options merit majority support. In fact, the only one that received positive net support was the “do not expand Medicaid right now” proposal, with 45 percent in favor and 26 percent opposed. For comparison, Healthy Utah got 32 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed, traditional Medicaid expansion got 21 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed, and partial Medicaid expansion got 19 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed. Thirty percent of Utah voters on average said they were unsure or didn’t know whether they supported or opposed each proposal.

Here are two more takeaways from the survey. First, when asked to choose the best Medicaid expansion proposal from among the various options, a plurality of 31 percent chose “do not expand Medicaid right now,” followed by “I don’t know” at 20 percent and Healthy Utah at 17 percent, traditional expansion at 15 percent, partial expansion at 10 percent, and “I don’t like any of the plans” at 7 percent. Second, when asked about how a candidate’s support for Medicaid expansion would affect their vote, 42 percent of Utah voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate that supports Medicaid expansion and 34 percent said they would be more likely to vote for that candidate, with 24 percent unsure.

Our poll has received a fair amount of criticism, which is both expected and appropriate. After all, there is no such thing as a perfect poll, so just like any other public opinion poll our results were undoubtedly influenced by question wording and other such human factors. But two realities remain from the combined batch of polls.

The first reality is that the more you provide voters with deeper and broader information and context about the various Medicaid expansion options, they begin to think that Utah policymakers should hold off on expansion altogether for the time being, set aside all of the current plans, and start looking for something better. The second reality is that the way to produce overwhelming public support for Medicaid expansion is to limit both the amount of information you provide to voters and the number of options voters have to choose from. In other words, you give voters a misleading choice without all of the information they need to make that choice, and before long, you end up with a poll that starts to resemble a political sales pitch, rather than a trustworthy public opinion poll.

But when you equip and trust voters with all of the information and options on Medicaid expansion, the right thing to do in the eyes of those voters starts to become clear: “None of the above.”

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Derek Monson. Thanks for listening.

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