The Importance Of The Presidential Bully Pulpit

According to a recent survey from The Commonwealth Fund, a whopping 82 percent of Americans think the health care system “should be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt.” But in almost every election poll, health care trails the economy and the war in Iraq. Americans agree that the system is broken, but they’re not asking the candidates to address the problem; voter dissatisfaction has not translated into electoral demand.

In fact, even as health care costs have more than doubled since the 90s, fewer Americans consider health care “one of the two important issues for government to address” than did during President Clinton’s reform efforts:

So why are Americans paying more, but caring less? The answer may lie in presidential leadership, or lack thereof. As Clinton prioritized health care reform in his first term and educated the public about the consequences of allowing health care costs to spiral out of control, support for government action peaked. But his failure to secure reform and the Bush administration’s dearth of solutions to the health care crisis took the health issue off the table and out of the political consciousness.

The trend highlights the role of the president in shaping the political debate and helping voters “get behind solutions to big problems.” As Faiz Shakir points out, “voters could get behind solutions to big problems” if leaders would “help them divine what they are.”