As I write this column, the Idaho Republican convention meeting in Pocatello is considering a resolution opposing expanding Idaho’s Medicaid program to cover roughly 62,000 Idahoans not covered and who do not receive subsidies for health insurance. If passed, this would put the Idaho GOP forward as the most prominent opponent of the expansion initiative likely to be on November’s ballot.
With opposition by Idaho’s dominant political party is Medicaid expansion a long shot? Hardly.
First, the measure appears (but has not yet been officially confirmed) to have gathered signatures from more than 56,000 Idahoans with sufficient numbers in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts to be placed on the November ballot. That shows broad-based support and organization by proponents.
Second, a recently released poll by Idaho Voices for Children of likely Idaho voters pegs support for expansion at 66%.
Further, the influential Idaho Medical Association, the voice of Idaho doctors, backs the initiative.
And, a recent survey by Idaho Politics Weekly’s sister publication in Utah of a similar measure on the ballot on Utah provides some insight into how steep the road in Idaho may be for opponents. Utah’s version is even more far reaching in that it raises Utah’s sales tax to pay for the measure. Yet here are the key results of the Utah survey:
- 63% of Utahns back Medicaid expansion while only 30% opposed with 7% undecided. That is more than 2-1 in favor.
- Women are more enthusiastic with 69% in favor compared to 58% of men in favor.
- 48% of Republicans are on board with 43% opposed. Democrats overwhelmingly support 94% to 4%.
- Independents are solid supporters, 71% to 23%.
- Utah’s active members of the LDS church back the measure 56% to 38%.
Idaho is not Utah but both share many demographic characteristics. The Utah poll likely mirrors the current situation in Idaho. It is reasonable to assume that the Idaho initiative is most heavily backed by women, Democrats and Independents. Republicans are probably split but tipping in favor (the Idaho Voices for Children poll found 53% of Idaho Republicans back the measure),
Of particular import in Idaho is the likely support for the measure by members of the LDS church. Mormons are strong backers of the GOP in Idaho. If they hold and continue to hold a view opposite the party on the issue it is unclear how opponents might prevail in November.
Republican candidate for governor Brad Little senses the risk. He is on record opposing expansion. But he has pledged that he will not overturn the will of the voters once the issue is decided in November.
More telling is the lack of any political action committee (yet) to actively and substantially oppose the ballot measure. A resolution passed at the Republican convention will put pressure on GOP candidates to speak out in opposition. But, will the Republican state party, local parties, allies and candidates lock arms on the issue and try to persuade voters that their natural inclination is in error?
I suspect that national liberal groups will push money into Idaho to turn out the vote in favor. Doing so will bolster gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan and the rest of the Idaho Democratic ticket. The grassroots volunteers that played a key role in gathering signatures will be whipped up.
Will Idaho Republicans expend political capital on what may a losing cause?
Ballot initiatives can be defeated by smart, aggressive and well-funded opposition. But, by holding a significant lead four months before the general election, Medicaid expansion supporters may have lessened the chance of viable opposition forming.
If so, that is a recipe for a win.