I’ve been a bit surprised by the apparent political strength of Medicaid. About 60 percent of Americans say they, a family member or a friend have been on Medicaid. A majority want the program protected from spending cuts, and only 13 percent want “major” reductions in funding. One possible explanation for this is that Americans confuse Medicare and Medicaid. The latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll — which is where all the poll numbers in this post come from — provides some support for that thesis:

So somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of Americans are confused about who Medicaid serves and who Medicare serves. That’s some evidence for the mix-up hypothesis, but it doesn’t account for the overwhelming majorities in favor of the program. In fact, confusion is less common than I would’ve predicted.

Perhaps the public’s affection is simply genuine. That hypothesis makes a lot more sense when you read that Medicaid serves 47 million Americans, whereas Medicare only serves 37 million. Moreover, most of Medicaid’s members are children (though most of its spending is on the poor elderly and the disabled), and it’s pretty easy to imagine why you’d like a program that gave your son or your niece health-care coverage when they needed it.