U.S. Voters Support Expanding Medicare but Not Eliminating Private Health Insurance

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Democratic presidential candidates are presenting policy ideas that are broadly popular with Americans, including tuition-free state colleges, but other proposals—such as Medicare for All—could complicate the party’s prospects next year, the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows.

Two-thirds of registered voters support letting anyone buy into Medicare, similar to an idea that former Vice President

Joe Biden

and some other Democratic candidates have proposed. Two-thirds say that young adults brought to the U.S. illegally should be allowed to stay, an idea broadly supported by the party’s presidential field. Nearly 60% of registered voters support making tuition free at state colleges and universities.

But several other ideas backed by majorities of Democratic voters and some of the party’s 2020 candidates draw significant opposition from the electorate overall, the new poll finds.

Some 56% of registered voters oppose a Medicare for All plan that would replace private insurance, as

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders

and some others have proposed, while 57% oppose the idea of immediately canceling student-loan debt for all borrowers. Mr. Sanders also has proposed the latter, while

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren

backs it with limits.

Views of Policy Proposals

Share of voters that favor:

Allowing young adults who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents to stay.

Democratic primary voters

Providing free tuition at all state colleges and universities

Allowing everyone to buy health coverage through the Medicare program

Providing government health care to undocumented workers

Cancelling and forgiving all current student loan debt

Stopping and eliminating fracking for oil and gas

Of 12 policy ideas tested in the poll, providing government-sponsored health care to undocumented immigrants was the least popular among the broader electorate, with 62% rejecting it. In a June Democratic debate, all 10 candidates on the stage, including Messrs. Biden and Sanders, raised their hands when asked who backed the idea. In the new survey, it was supported by 64% of Democratic primary voters but only 36% of voters overall.

The findings underscore tensions within the Democratic Party over whether it should embrace big—and expensive—ideas, or take a more measured approach. In several cases, the survey suggests that the most aggressive approaches to health care, immigration and college affordability draw majority opposition, while less aggressive approaches draw majority support.

“There is a way forward for a more moderate, mainstream approach on a number of these issues,’’ said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt, who conducted the survey with Republican Bill McInturff. “Voters aren’t looking to go too far left or too far right.’’

Mr. McInturff said that some of the Democratic policy ideas “could bring significant troubles for a Democratic nominee in a general election.”

Asked about two leading health-care proposals that have divided the Democratic presidential field, the party’s primary voters mostly favored the idea of allowing people under age 65 to buy into Medicare, just like they might buy private insurance. Some 78% supported that idea, while 63% backed Medicare for All, which would replace private insurance with a government plan.

Of three proposals to make college more affordable, the most popular in the survey was the idea of income-based repayment, a policy in existing law and backed by former President

Barack Obama

in which borrowers devote a fixed amount of their income to student-debt repayment, with the unpaid balance forgiven after a certain number of years.

Mr. Trump

has proposed altering the existing terms so that borrowers devote 12.5% of income to debt payments for 15 years. That idea drew support from 64% of registered voters, including 82% of Democratic primary voters, or registered voters who said they would vote in a Democratic presidential primary or caucus.

Asked about immigration policy, the survey turned up near-universal support among Democratic primary voters for allowing young adults brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children to stay in the country legally to attend college or work, with 89% backing the proposal. More than two-thirds of registered voters back that idea, similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Mr. Trump canceled in 2017.

Among registered voters, 43% supported Mr. Trump’s signature policy of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. They included 84% of Republicans but only 37% of independents and 8% of Democrats.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

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More registered voters disapprove than approve of Mr. Trump’s job performance, 53% to 45%. Mr. Trump’s job-approval rating is similar to that of two other presidents who won re-election. Some 46% approved of former President

Bill Clinton

’s job performance at this point in his presidency, while 44% approved of Mr. Obama.

Half of voters say they don’t like Mr. Trump personally and disapprove of many of his policies, while 19% say they don’t like him personally and yet approve of most of his policies. One-quarter like him and approve most of his decisions.

In a positive sign for Mr. Trump, 46% of registered voters say the economy has improved during his presidency and he deserves some credit for that. At the same time, roughly equal shares say their own financial situation is getting better versus those who say it is deteriorating.

Just 15% of registered Democrats in the poll say their economic situation is getting better, while 68% of Republicans feel that way. Half of those in rural areas say they’re gaining economically, compared with just over a third of urban residents.

The Journal/NBC News poll surveyed 900 registered voters, including 506 who said they would vote in a Democratic caucus or primary. The poll, conducted Sept. 13-16, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for the full sample and 4.4 percentage points for questions involving only people who would vote in a Democratic caucus and primary.

Write to John McCormick at mccormick.john@wsj.com

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