Virginia voters sent a loud message about health care

Voters cast their ballots at the fire house in Teaneck, N.J., Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Voters in Virginia sent a message on election day: Access to affordable care matters.

A post-election survey of Virginia voters conducted Tuesday found that health care was a decisive issue in the closely watched gubernatorial race, with 67 percent of voters saying health care was the most important or a very important issue to them.

Those who said health care was the most or a very important issue to them voted for Democratic candidate Ralph Northam by a margin of 62 to 32. Additionally, Northam’s support for the Affordable Care Act attracted a plurality of voters, with 47 percent of voters saying his desire to keep the Affordable Care Act made them more likely to vote for him, versus 30 percent who said his stance on the ACA made them less likely to vote for him.

Republican candidate Ed Gillespie was, on the other hand, hurt by his stance on health care. Just 20 percent of voters surveyed told Public Policy Polling that Gillespie’s opposition to the ACA was a reason to support him, while 44 percent of voters said his stance on the health care law made them less likely to support him.

Tuesday’s elections come just a month after Senate Republicans latest attempts to repeal and replace the ACA. The Republican plans would have left millions without health insurance and slashed Medicaid funding.

Tuesday’s results also make it clear that one GOP talking point — that the American people hate Obamacare — simply isn’t true.

The survey found that 50 percent of voters in Virginia now support the ACA, versus 39 percent who do not. According to the survey, 61 percent of voters in the commonwealth think the best path forward on health care is to keep the ACA and make fixes to the law, while 36 percent think the best path forward is to repeal it.

PPP’s survey of Virginia voters is backed up by exit polling. 39 percent of voters said in exit polls that health care was their top concern, and Northam won among that group by a margin of 77 to 23.

In addition to Northam’s win, Democrats picked up a number of seats in the state’s House of Delegates. (Some ballots are still being counted, but Democrats picked up at least 13 seats Friday, and they would need 17 to take control of the chamber.)

If Democrats do take control of the House of Delegates, Northam could move to expand the state’s Medicaid program — which offers affordable health insurance to low-income people — with the support of the legislature. The Virginia senate elections aren’t until 2019, but the path to victory for Democrats in that chamber is considered much easier, as Republicans have just a two-seat majority.

About 400,000 people would receive access to health insurance if Virginia expanded Medicaid.

Voters also sent a clear message about health care in Maine, where nearly 60 percent of voters elected to expand the state’s Medicaid program. Gov. Paul LePage is trying to block the initiative, but, should it go forward (and it likely will), some 70,000 people will have access to affordable health care in the state by mid-August of next year.