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Lansing — A majority of Michigan voters oppose a strict Medicare for All proposal that would eliminate private health insurance, according to a new statewide poll released Thursday ahead of next week's Democratic presidential debates in Detroit. 

But the survey of 600 likely Michigan voters shows the government-run single-payer health care proposal is popular among "strong" Democrats and supported by a plurality of voters who "lean" Democratic, pointing to a challenge for presidential candidates attempting to win the primary without hurting their chances in a general election.

The July 17-20 poll was conducted by Glengariff Group Inc. and commissioned by the Detroit Regional Chamber, whose CEO and President Sandy Baruah said he hopes its various findings will encourage candidates from both political parties to “focus on the center” rather than the “fringes” of the Michigan electorate.

“Elections are still won in the middle,” Baruah said. “That would be my only advice.”

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is a leading advocate for Medicare for All and championed the proposal in his 2016 presidential campaign when he won Michigan over eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Several other 2020 candidates are backing some form of Medicare for All, but only Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has joined Sanders in clearly calling for a true single-payer system that would eliminate private health insurance.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California supports the concept but has offered conflicting statements on how she would treat private insurers. Others like Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are calling for a mixed approach that would retain private options.

Sanders' supporters argue he is well-positioned to beat Republican President Donald Trump should he advance to the general election. But on his signature issue, Michigan general election voters oppose the elimination of private health insurance in favor of a Medicare for All program 52%-37%, according to the poll.

Democrats are generally supportive, however, with strong Democrats backing the concept 58%-27% and lean Democrats backing it 48%-37%. Republicans are widely opposed, including 77% of voters who lean GOP and 83% who consider themselves strong Republicans.

Self-described independents, who could play a crucial role in a close general election, oppose the concept 53%-35%. Trump defeated Clinton by 10,704 votes in Michigan in 2016 and opposes Medicare for All.

“Very clearly, independents are not there on Medicare for All,” said pollster Richard Czuba. “More importantly, older voters are not there on Medicare for All, and they are by far the most dependable voters in the system.”

A plurality of Michigan voters age 18-39 support the single-payer health care proposal, which would essentially provide all Americans with the health care coverage from Medicare, the government's health care plan for seniors. It is opposed by a majority of voters age 40 and up, according to the survey.   

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points and reached 60% of respondents on landlines and 40% on cellphones. Among respondents, 39% self-identified as Democrats, 33% as Republican and 25% independent.

Affordable Care Act fate

Former Vice President Joe Biden, an early front-runner for the Democratic nomination, opposes Medicare for All and has instead proposed expanding the Affordable Care Act to include broader subsidies and the option for consumers to buy a government-run public insurance plan.

The poll shows Michigan voters are statistically split on whether to repeal the existing federal law, which Trump campaigned against three years ago and has worked to chip away at absent congressional action.

Forty-four percent of Michigan voters said they want to scrap the Affordable Care Act, while 42% oppose repeal.

But voters overwhelmingly favor retaining one of the most popular aspects of the law: More than 91% of voters support the mandate that requires health insurers to cover patients with pre-existing conditions.

The survey did not include arguments for or against Medicare for All, including significant tax hikes that would likely be needed to pay for the program or overall health care savings.

Sanders estimates his plan would cost between $30 trillion and $40 trillion over 10 years but argues it could reduce health care spending by up to $20 trillion over that span by cutting insurer profits and corporate CEO salaries out of the system.

“I don’t think there’s a study out there that does not suggest that Medicare for All is far less expensive than continuation of the current system,” Sanders said last week.

Trump has bashed Medicare for All, arguing it is a “radical socialist” idea that would cause taxes to “skyrocket” and could jeopardize the traditional health insurance program for seniors.

Tuition-free college

Michigan voters are more supportive of another proposal pushed by progressives like Sanders and Warren: Tuition-free college.

Roughly 57% of likely voters said they support the idea of "free, taxpayer-supported tuition for college or skilled trades education for all students, compared with 37% opposed, according to the poll. Independents support free college tuition by a similar margin, and more than 95% of black voters polled backed the idea.

Most Michigan voters said climate change is a threat to the state's economy (61%-34%) and a threat to the Great Lakes (65%-31%), according to the survey.

Trump troubles

The poll points to challenges Democrats face as they navigate the health care debate in the presidential primary, but it also shows signs of trouble for Trump.

Nearly 58% of Michigan voters oppose Trump's push for increased federal funding to build a border wall between Mexico and the United States, but 82% support additional funding for enhanced security at the border, airports and ports of entry.

“You can’t say that people who oppose the wall oppose security,” Czuba said. “They simply oppose the wall.”

Fifty-five percent of voters said immigrants who entered the country illegally but have not committed any major crimes should be given a pathway to citizenship in the United States, and 78% support a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, immigrants who were brought into the country as children.

On trade, a plurality of Michigan voters said tariffs on cars made in foreign countries will hurt Michigan's auto industry (41%-32%), that tariffs on Chinese imports will hurt Michigan farmers (47%-22%) and that tariffs on foreign-made products will hurt consumers like themselves (47%-24%).

While 62% of Michigan voters said the nation's economy is on the right track, 51% said the country is on the wrong track overall, according to the poll. More than 69% said America has become less civil in recent years, and 40% of those voters blamed Trump.

A plurality of likely voters said their household outlook has not changed because of the current economy (48%) and that they did not feel any effect from federal tax cuts Trump signed into law two years ago (48%).

Fox News effect

The survey also asked voters to identify their primary new source and pointed to the large influence Fox News has on the GOP electorate.

In response to an open-ended question, 18% of all voters identified border security and immigration as the most important issue facing the country.

It was the most common answer overall, according to the survey. It was driven by Fox News viewers, said Czuba, who added that 43% of respondents who identified the conservative cable channel as their primary news source singled out immigration as the nation’s top issue.

The second most common answer? Trump himself, a response most common among strong Democrats.

“It’s probably the first time I’ve really seen a survey where an individual jumps up as one of the top issues in the nation,” Czuba said.

Fox News viewers were also the only demographic that did not believe climate change is a threat to Michigan’s economy or the Great Lakes, according to the poll. And they helped drive Republican sentiment in favor of tariffs opposed by other voters.

While the survey also tested attitudes of CNN and MSNBC voters, the poll results show age is the most influential factor for opinions among Democratic voters, Czuba said.

The Detroit Regional Chamber commissioned the poll for release ahead of the second Democratic presidential debates in Detroit, a two-day affair at the Fox Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Baruah, a former Bush administration official who attended a Biden fundraiser this week, called the Detroit business group a “centrist” organization that works to “amplify the sensible center” and encourage “civility in public discourse.”

The chamber will not endorse in the presidential primary or general election.

“Our goal is to get candidates of all parties for all offices to really focus on the interests of the broad center and not just to speak to the fringes of their individual bases, either be they Republican or Democrat,” Baruah said.  

joosting@detroitnews.com

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