RICHMOND — A majority of Virginians oppose using federal Medicaid funds to expand health coverage, according to a new poll that finds public opinion has rapidly soured on Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s top priority.
The Wason Center at Christopher Newport University poll found that 53 percent of the state’s voters oppose enrolling more Virginians in the federal-state health program for the poor, a sharp reversal from February, when the center found that 56 percent backed expansion.
McAuliffe (D) and a slim majority of the evenly divided state Senate have pushed this year to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, saying it would provide insurance to up to 400,000 needy Virginians and boost the economy. The Republican-dominated House has opposed expansion, raising doubts about the federal government’s ability to pay most of the $2 billion-a-year cost and stressing the need to first rein in the existing Medicaid program.
“Democrats are losing the debate on expanding Medicaid in Virginia,” Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center, said in a written statement. “This is mostly because they are not convincing Independents that it’s a good idea. But even in the usually friendly territory of Northern Virginia, the debate is not going their way.”
Support for expansion is highest in liberal-leaning Northern Virginia, but even there, it leads opposition by only 2 percentage points — 49 percent to 47 percent.
After months of debate in Richmond, opinion has become more sharply divided along partisan lines since February, when majorities of both Democrats and Republicans backed Medicaid expansion. Just 11 percent of Republicans support expansion now, down from 55 percent in the earlier poll. And 77 percent of Democrats back it, up from 58 percent in February. Among independents, 35 percent want the expansion.
The legislature’s stalemate over Medicaid has prevented the passage of a two-year budget and threatens to shut down state government if it is not resolved by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. If it comes to that, voters are inclined to spread the blame around, according to the poll. Sixty-five percent said both parties would be equally responsible, and 78 percent said McAuliffe would share some or a lot of the blame.
“Nobody will come through a shutdown in Richmond without scars,” Kidd said. “If no compromise happens, voters are ready to heap blame on everyone.”
The poll, conducted between April 16 and 22, surveyed 806 registered Virginia voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.