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Race and Health Reform

By Matthew Yglesias

"Race and Health Reform"

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My sense is that politically speaking it’s counterproductive to talk about the role views about race play in shaping the health care debate. Still, these appear to be the facts:

As evidence of the link between health care and racial attitudes, we analyzed survey data gathered in late 2008. The survey asked people whether they favored a government run health insurance plan, a system like we have now, or something in between. It also asked four questions about how people feel about blacks.

Taken together the four items form a measure of what scholars call racial resentment. We find an extraordinarily strong correlation between racial resentment of blacks and opposition to health care reform.

Among whites with above average racial resentment, only 19 percent favored fundamental health care reforms and 57 percent favored the present system. Among those who have below average racial resentment, more than twice as many (45 percent) favored government run health care and less than half as many (25 percent) favored the status quo.

Something that I find interesting about this is that if you put the argument a certain way—”racism has a lot to do with opposition to social insurance programs in the United States” people get very upset. But if you say something like “European social democracy works because post-WWII European countries were so homogeneous, but mass immigration is causing consensus around the welfare state to break down” then you come to expressing something approaching conventional wisdom among the center and right in the United States. These strike me, however, as nearly identical points of view just being expressed slightly differently.

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