Poll Finds Most Americans Believe Nurses Are Underpaid

Ken Terry

August 12, 2021

Large majorities of both Democrats and Republicans believe that nurses and healthcare aides are underpaid, while many Americans say doctors, physical therapists, and pharmacists are paid about the right amount, according to a new poll.

The bipartisan agreement on healthcare workers' pay stands in contrast to the sharp divide between Democrats and Republicans on health policy issues, which has remained mostly unchanged since before the pandemic.

The poll was taken June 10-14 by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Only 11% of respondents believe doctors are underpaid, 50% think they're paid the right amount, and 39% think they're overpaid.

In contrast, 59% of Americans think nurses are underpaid, 32% believe they're paid the right amount, and 6% say they're paid too much. The results for healthcare aides are about the same.

Insurance executives and hospital executives took it on the chin in this survey. A whopping 73% of respondents say health plan officials are overpaid; 68% say the same about hospital executives.

Little Difference Between Parties

Breaking the data down by political affiliation, only a few percentage points separate Democrats, independents, and Republicans in whether they think doctors and nurses are underpaid, overpaid, or receive the right amount. Seventy-six percent of Democrats, 53% of independents, and 65% of Republicans think hospital executives are overpaid.

Partisanship also has little influence on the level of trust in healthcare professionals. Overall, 70% of Americans trust their doctors to do what is right for them and their families, including 72% of Republicans, 52% of independents, and 77% of Democrats. Trust in nurses is even higher, at 79% for all respondents.

Similarly, 75% of respondents trust pharmacists, with similar numbers of Republicans and Democrats.

Three-quarters of the total sample distrust hospital executives, including 70% of Democrats, 76% of independents, and 79% of Democrats.

Healthcare Policy Divide

As always, Republicans and Democrats differ on key health policy issues. While 44% of Americans favor the Affordable Care Act, and 31% oppose it, only 14% of Republicans and 26% of independents endorse the law. In contrast, 77% of Democrats support what's become known as Obamacare.

When asked about the "public option" — a government-administered health plan available to all Americans that would compete with private health insurance — 48% of the respondents endorse it, and 20% oppose it. But just 27% of Republicans and 38% of independents support this policy, compared to 71% of Democrats.

Similarly, 38% of Americans want a single-payer healthcare system and 35% don't want it. The percentages of Republicans (18%) and independents (27%) who like the single-payer system are far lower than the 59% of Democrats who are ready for it.

There are far smaller differences among Americans on the question of whether the federal government and private insurers should be allowed to negotiate for lower prices on prescription drugs. Seventy-two percent of respondents support this idea, including 68% of Republicans, 55% of independents, and 82% of Democrats.

More Liberals Want Raises for Nurses

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act, a single-payer system, and a public option are more likely than other Americans to say that nurses and healthcare aides are underpaid and insurance executives are overpaid.

The majority of Americans favor government funding to increase the number of doctors, but Democrats are significantly more likely to endorse the policy than are Republicans. The level of support for this policy is similar to that for expanding government health coverage for low-income people. But increasing the number of doctors is less popular than using government funding to lower out-of-pocket costs for patients.

While 70% of Democrats favor government support for increasing the number of doctors, only 41% of Republicans back such a proposal. Similarly, 84% of Democrats support increasing funding for expanded government health insurance coverage for low-income people, compared to 33% of Republicans.

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