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Virginia voters oppose using federal Medicaid funds to expand health coverage

4/30/2014, 12:04 p.m.

Republicans’ argument against expanding Medicaid in Virginia appears to be winning public approval, but more than 7 out of 10 voters want to see the General Assembly find a compromise on the issue, according to a survey from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.

The survey also shows that if the legislature’s failure to pass a budget leads to a shutdown of state government, 73 percent of voters want Gov. Terry McAuliffe to use executive orders to keep essential functions running.

“Democrats are losing the debate on expanding Medicaid in Virginia,” said Dr. Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy. “This is mostly because they are not convincing Independents that it’s a good idea. But even in the usually friendly territory of Northern Virginia, the debate is not going their way.”

Virginians say 53 percent to 41 percent that they oppose Medicaid expansion, a sharp reversal from the Wason Center survey when the 2014 legislative session began, which showed general support for Medicaid expansion, 56 percent to 38 percent. In that Feb. 3 survey, however, support for expansion fell to 41 percent with 54 percent opposed, when respondents were asked if they would still support expansion if the federal government did not pay its share. That risk has been a key contention in the Republican argument against expansion. The 41 percent support versus 53 percent opposed in the current poll suggests that Republican skepticism has gotten through to voters.

Where majorities of voters in both parties supported Medicaid expansion in the Feb. 3 poll, months of fractious, partisan debate appear to have strongly polarized the issue. In the Feb. 3 poll, 55 percent of Republicans supported the expansion. In the current poll, only 11 percent support it, with 87 percent now opposed. Similarly, 77 percent of Democrats support expansion now, compared with 58 percent in the Feb. 3 poll.

The House of Delegates and the state Senate are at a standoff over the state budget that would ordinarily take effect July 1, largely over whether to use federal Medicaid funds to expand health insurance coverage for 400,000 low-income, working Virginians. 71 percent said both sides should compromise on the Medicaid issue.

Looking at the prospect of a state government shutdown, small minorities assigned the blame to either Republicans or Democrats, but 65 percent said both parties would share the blame equally. Likewise, a small minority would hold McAuliffe blameless, while 78 percent said he would share some or a lot of the blame.

“Nobody will come through a shutdown in Richmond without scars,” said Kidd. “If no compromise happens, voters are ready to heap blame on everyone.”

The poll surveyed 806 registered Virginia voters April 16-22. The overall margin of error is +/- 3.5%.