Some Observations on Prop C
Yesterday’s primary election featured a statewide vote on Proposition C, otherwise known as the Health Care Freedom Act. The bill originated as a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution, but when it became clear that the bill could not be brought to a vote in the Senate, its proponents reached a compromise that would allow citizens to vote on it as a statute. The new statute is unlikely to have much legal effect, but it was touted as a way for Missourians to concretely express their opinions about the individual health insurance mandate that serves as the cornerstone for the federal health care reform law adopted by Congress earlier this year.
The Health Care Freedom Act passed with more than 71 percent of the vote, but this alone does not truly tell the story. Primary elections have a different dynamic than general elections, with lower turnouts that can be dominated by one party or another; a measure passing with 71 percent of the vote might not be surprising if, say, the party most likely to favor that measure had far more supporters going to the polls. And, in fact, about 64 percent of those who voted yesterday chose Republican ballots, while only 35 percent chose Democratic ballots. The Health Care Freedom Act was sponsored by and primarily driven by Republicans, and its target was a provision in a bill passed by a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President — so, given the turnout, perhaps the landslide victory for Prop C was just to be expected.
Not so fast.
Looking more closely at the data, it appears that a significant percentage of Democrats also voted in favor of Prop C, presumably indicating dissatisfaction with the individual health insurance mandate. How can we know? Just compare the number of Democratic ballots cast in the race for U.S. Senate (315,787) to the number of votes cast against Prop C (271,102). That means that even if we assume that every person using a Republican, Libertarian, or Constitution Party ballot voted in favor of the Proposition (an unlikely prospect), more than 40,000 people using Democratic ballots also supported the measure. In St. Louis city, at least 29 percent of those casting Democratic ballots voted in favor of Prop C (26,696 Democratic ballots; 18,989 votes against Prop C). In Kansas City, at least 20 percent of those casting Democratic ballots voted in favor of Prop C (20,534 Democratic ballots; 16,383 votes against Prop C). When one considers that it is likely that at least a small percentage of Republican, Libertarian, and Constitution Party voters voted against Prop C, that means that anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent of Democrat voters statewide probably supported the measure.
There are limits to what yesterday’s vote can tell us. For example, are Prop C’s supporters opposed to all parts of the federal health care law, or just the individual mandate? At a minimum, though, it does seem remarkably clear that Missouri voters have demonstrated a broad and bipartisan opposition to the idea that Congress should force people to purchase health insurance.