On Thursday, President Trump unveiled his proposal for shifting the United States to a merit-based program for admitting future immigrants. The plan, which offers meaningful change and deserves serious consideration, is a non-starter politically, given that it does nothing to address the question of the Dreamers, or the millions of other immigrants already in the country illegally. Democrats, as expected, quickly condemned the president’s plan.
Trump isn’t wrong to highlight immigration. A broad-based restructuring of our immigration system is a laudable goal, and we do have a crisis on our southern border – as some Democrats now begrudgingly admit.
So immigration, legal and illegal, is an important issue, particularly to the president’s political base. The problem is that it’s not the most important issue for a most Americans, including many Republicans. It’s not even close. On the issue that is considered the most important – health care –Trump and the Republican Party have no plan at all.
Last week our polling firm, RealClear Opinion Research, released a new survey showing that health care is far and away the most important issue to Americans. At 36%, it was 10 percentage points above the number two issue – the economy – and more than 21 points ahead immigration, which ranked as the number three issue at 15%. (Education and the environment were tied at 11%, and foreign policy ranked last at just 3%.)
Attitudes about our current health care system were even more striking. Although 72% of registered voters rated their own health care as “excellent” or “good,” just 4% said the system was working for all Americans well enough that it needs no significant changes, while 28% think the current system is broken and needs to be replaced. The vast majority (68%) is somewhere in the middle, viewing the current system either positively or negatively but agreeing that it is in need of improvements.
RealClear Opinion Research pollster John Della Volpe described the findings this way: “Significant proportions of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents agree that the current system needs substantial reform. The debate will be where to start, and how dramatic the correction.”
Democrats are already having that debate. Every single one of the 23 candidates running for the party’s nomination has embraced some form of reform, from expanding Obamacare or advocating “Medicare for All” to calling for a government-run single-payer system.
Meanwhile Trump and the GOP are standing on the sidelines. Nearly two months ago, Trump’s Justice Department came out in support of a Texas district court ruling striking down all of Obamacare. At the same time, the president took to Twitter (where else?) to declare that “the Republican Party will become ‘The Party of Healthcare!'”
Trump claimed that “the Republicans are developing a really great healthcare plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than Obamacare,” further promising that a “vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win…”
After Republicans complained Trump had caught them off guard, on April 3 the president tweeted, “I was never planning a vote prior to the 2020 Election on the wonderful HealthCare package that some very talented people are now developing for me & the Republican Party. It will be on full display during the Election as a much better & less expensive alternative to ObamaCare…”
Since then, crickets. The thumping the GOP took in the House in 2018 should have been a wake-up call given the prominent role health care played in sending Republicans down to defeat. According to exit polls, 41% of voters in 2018 said health care was the most important issue facing the country, with immigration and the economy running a distant second and third place at 23% and 22%, respectively. More than two-thirds of voters said the health care system needed “major changes.”
Notice how closely those numbers mirror our new findings from RealClear Opinion Research. Six months after Republicans lost the House, voters’ opinions about the importance of health care and the need for reform haven’t budged. If the president and his party don’t come up with a viable plan to address voters’ concerns, they may find it’s “déjà vu all over again” in 2020.