Clinicians Say Candidates' Healthcare Plans Key to Their Votes: Poll

Marcia Frellick

September 30, 2020

As voters sort the candidates' visions from the vitriol after Tuesday night's presidential debate, a Medscape poll sheds light on what clinicians think about both candidates' healthcare platforms and how that could affect the election.

What is clear is that agreement with a candidate's healthcare policies will play a key role in how physicians and nurses/advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) will vote: 93%-94% said that factor will be important or very important in their decision-making.

The poll, first posted on September 23, drew responses from 120 physicians and 296 nurses/APRNs.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has campaigned on a healthcare plan that builds on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), adds a public option, and increases marketplace subsidies.

President Donald J. Trump's administration is supporting the lawsuit filed to overturn the ACA by 18 Republican-led states, but has not yet released a detailed healthcare plan.

Half or Fewer Have Firm Grasp on Both Platforms

However, only 50% of physicians and 36% of nurses/APRNs who responded to the poll said they had a good understanding of each candidate's policies on healthcare.

That differed by clinicians' age. While 53% of physicians age 65 and older said they had a good understanding of both candidates' healthcare policies, only 46% of those under age 65 did. Similarly, 39% of nurses/APRNs 65 and older had a good understanding compared with 34% of those under age 65.

Twenty-seven percent of physicians overall and 33% of nurses/APRNs said they understood the plans "somewhat." But 19% of physicians and 29% of nurses said they did not have a good understanding of the plans. The rest in both groups answered that they were unsure.

Biden's Plan Preferred by a Wide Margin

More than twice as many respondents said they preferred Biden's healthcare platform to Trump's. Among physicians, Biden's plan was preferred to Trump's 59% to 22%; nurses/APRNs preferred Biden's plan 52% to 24%.

Older physicians were the most likely group among all respondents to prefer Biden's plan (64%). Physicians younger than 65 were the most likely group among all responders to prefer Trump's platform (28%).

The question of which healthcare plan will benefit clinicians more met with more uncertainty, but Biden's, again, was the choice for physicians and nurses/APRNs.

Question: Which candidate's plan for US healthcare do you think will benefit clinicians more?

Answer %Physicians %Nurses/APRNs
Joe Biden 31 38
Donald Trump 24 19
Other Candidate  0  1
Unsure 18 23
I don't think any candidate's plan for US healthcare will benefit clinicians 28 20


COVID-19 Response Will Be Key in Vote

The poll also asked clinicians how much their perception of the way Trump has handled the pandemic will influence their vote, and 63%-64% of physicians and nurses said that mattered "a lot." Almost a quarter of physicians (23%) and 19% of nurses/APRNs said it mattered "some." The remaining answers fell into "not that much," "not at all;" and "unsure" categories.

Answers on that question also differed by age. Physicians age 65 and older gave more weight to their perception of Trump's COVID-19 response as an influencer of their vote than did their younger counterparts (68% vs 56%).

Nurses/APRNs age 65 and older also gave his COVID-19 performance more weight in their vote than did younger nurses: 70% of older nurses vs 59% of their under-65 counterparts said that would influence their vote "a lot."

As to how respondents think Trump has handled the pandemic, nurses/APRNs had a more favorable opinion than did physicians, but, overall, both sets of clinicians were not pleased with how the president has handled the pandemic so far.

Question: How do you think President Trump has handled the pandemic?

Answer %Physicians %Nurses/APRNs
Good 18 23
Fair 12 10
Poor 70 66
Unsure  1  1


Older physicians were the most critical of Trump's COVID-19 response among all the respondents: 74% rated his handling of the pandemic as "poor." 

Consumers in a WebMD poll (WebMD and Medscape are part of the same company) with several of the same questions gave answers somewhat similar to those of clinicians.

Two thirds of consumers (67%) said agreeing with a candidate's healthcare policies is a very important factor in deciding their votes. Fewer than 5% said it was unimportant.

Most consumers (69.5%) also said COVID-19 response plays a large part in their thinking, and the way they believe a candidate will address the crisis will also be very important in their vote.

Consumers, however, answered with more confidence than clinicians that they had a good understanding of the candidates' healthcare platforms.

Almost 60% of consumers said they had a good understanding of each candidate's policies on healthcare, higher than the 50% of physicians and 36% of nurses/APRNs who answered that way.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News, and, and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick.

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