Republicans are way more likely to support single-payer when you tell them it’s Donald Trump’s idea

In case anyone was wondering whether the opposition to President Obama’s policies was motivated by anything other than rank partisanship, check out this poll from The Huffington Post/YouGov When you tell Republicans that Donald Trump is down with single-payer health care, about as many of them are for it as they are against it. When you tell them it’s President Obama’s idea, it receives a predictably negligible amount of support.

huffington post poll universal health care

Republicans are five times less likely than Democrats to support universal healthcare when it’s associated with Obama, but partisans are about equally likely to support it when it’s associated with Trump. The question isn’t made up, either. Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump have, at various times, “praised the idea of universal health care.”

Of course, the partisan cues are working both ways, here. When Trump’s name is paired with universal healthcare, Democratic support for the idea drops about as much as Republican support increases. But the question calls into question Jeb Bush’s new line of attack, which paints Donald Trump as a fake conservative by highlighting his past support for liberal policies. As long as it’s Donald Trump saying so, Republican voters don’t really care. One need look no further than the Republican debate, where Trump was matter-of-fact about how well single-payer has worked in Canada, to see this in action.

This phenomenon is nothing new. Framing effects can drastically alter polling results — just look at how public opinion varies on the Iran Deal, depending on how the question is asked. These framing effects can be so large, in fact, that there is a (receding) line of thought in political science which argues that ideology is unstable to the point at which it doesn’t actually exist. According to this theory, the American Voter is too susceptible to framing effects to be said to have a coherent slate of opinions.

To a large degree, our opinions have as much to do with who already holds them than the opinions themselves. That’s partisanship, not ideology. For instance, Democrats and Republicans are more and less likely, respectively, to support the Public Affairs Act of 1975 — which doesn’t exist — when they are told President Obama supports it.

But the effects aren’t consistent. Contrast the universal health care question with the far smaller treatment effect found when voters were asked about Social Security:

huffington post social security


This particular question helps explain why Trump is such a danger to the Republican establishment, which wants to phase out the social safety net completely over objections from their own base. A majority of Republicans are opposed to cutting Social Security when it’s associated with Hillary Clinton; how is Jeb Bush supposed to go after Donald Trump for giving it a full-throated endorsement?

Partisan cues are a variable variable, having larger effects on some issues than they do on others. When President Obama talks about universal health care, Republicans cry Marxism; when Donald Trump endorses it, they shrug.

That’s to be expected, and it should keep Jeb Bush up at night.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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