Inside Augusta

Medicaid expansion fight unfolds in polls



The Maine People’s Alliance, a liberal advocacy group, claimed on Thursday that its latest robotic poll of 434 Mainers shows strong support in swing districts for expanding eligibility for the medical welfare program. According to the MPA’s robo poll, 69.9 percent of respondents said they favor Medicaid expansion, while 28.8 percent said they opposed.

The MPA robo poll sample included only respondents from swing districts, which it defines as districts with elections that were narrowly won in the 2012 State House of Representatives race.

Conservative critics quickly blasted the poll as an attempt by the MPA, which has lobbied extensively in favor of Medicaid expansion, to influence public opinion in their favor.

David Sorensen, communications director for the House Republicans, released a statement to the press pointing out several reasons why Republicans are skeptical of the poll results. According to Sorensen, the poll uses “Democratic buzzwords” and “persuasive language,” such as “new federal health care law,” rather than Obamacare or Affordable Care Act.

He also points out that MPA oversamples self-identified liberals. According to a recent Gallup poll, just 25 percent of Mainers identify as liberal, while 36.3 percent identify as conservative. The MPA poll sample was 37.4 percent self-identified liberals and only 29.9 percent conservative.

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House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) dismissed the poll and said Republicans remain committed to educating voters on the ill consequences of expanding Medicaid.

“It’s our goal over the next several months to make the case to the people of Maine, regardless of electoral considerations, that expanding medical welfare under ObamaCare would be the biggest fiscal mistake in Maine’s history and would result in higher taxes and less funding for education and other services for years and even decades to come,” Fredette said in a prepared statement.

The MPA is not the first organization to poll Medicaid expansion, which has been a hot-button issue in the 126th Legislature.

In early December, the Democratic-leaning Pan Atlantic SMS Group released a poll showing only 50.6 percent support for Medicaid expansion. And in May of this year, Maine People Before Politics (MPBP), a group aligned with Republican Gov. Paul LePage, released a poll showing 67 percent opposition to expanding eligibility for the welfare program.

Whereas MPBP and Pan Atlantic used live telephone interviewers, the MPA poll used automated robo-pollers.

Many political observers say the variance in the polling is explained by the questions pollsters ask.

The Pan Atlantic SMS Group poll asked the following: “The most recent legislature passed a bill to expand MaineCare to 70,000 Maine families that do not have health care coverage. The Governor, in turn, vetoed the bill, saying that we couldn’t afford the expense. Whose position aligns more closely to your own?” (45.3 percent agreed with the governor, while 50.6 percent agreed with the Legislature.) 

The MPA asked the following: “Under the new federal health care law, nearly 70,000 people in Maine who are uninsured right now could get health care coverage through Medicaid, known in Maine as MaineCare, starting in 2014. The governor and state elected officials can choose to accept federal dollars that have been allocated to cover these people in Maine, or to turn the money down and not cover these people. The federal dollars cover 100% of the costs in the first three years, and 90% of the costs after that.” (68.9 percent strongly or somewhat support, while 28.8 percent strongly or somewhat oppose.)

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson is the former editor of The Maine Wire and currently the executive producer of the Kirk Minihane Show. Follow him on Twitter @BigSteve207.

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