New Hoover Study Suggests the Importance of Health Reform in Upcoming Midterm Elections

Wednesday, January 20, 2010
David Brady (left), Daniel Kessler (center), and Douglas Rivers
David Brady (left), Daniel Kessler (center), and Douglas Rivers

How could a little-known Republican possibly have won a competitive U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states? A new study by a team of Hoover researchers indicates that the culprit is the unpopularity of health care reform, and it likely means that Democrats will face even greater challenges later this year in less liberal states than Massachusetts.

“While the majority party historically loses seats in midterm elections, the stunning Democratic loss of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts signals a midterm Republican rebound of striking proportions,” says Hoover deputy director David W. Brady.

The recent study polled voters in the eleven states most likely to have competitive Senate races in November on their opinions about health care reform and how they might vote in November. The interviews were conducted from January 6 to 11 with 500 registered voters in Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The respondents were selected from a nonpartisan YouGov PollingPoint panel to be representative of the registered voters in each state.

Health care reform is significantly more popular in some of these states than in others, the study shows; where it is unpopular—which includes most states—the Democratic Senate candidates will face uphill battles. Calculated by the relationship between voters’ support for health care reform and the spread between the Democrat and Republican candidates’ vote share, the state-by-state findings indicate that support for health reform varies from a low of 33 percent in North Dakota to a high of 48 percent in Nevada. Democrats trail Republicans in six of the states; three are toss-ups; in two, Democrats have a solid lead.

How is it possible to conclude that the health reform bill itself is to blame and not just that these are more conservative states? First, the study asked voters if they knew how their incumbent senators had voted on the bill passed on Christmas Eve; about two-thirds answered correctly. Even now, long before the Senate campaigns have intensified, voters know where the candidates stand on health care. Second, voters were asked about their preference for Democrat versus Republican candidates in a generic House race. The results indicated that the higher the level of opposition to health reform, the greater the likelihood that the state’s voters supported Republicans.

This study was led by David W. Brady, professor of political science at Stanford University and deputy director of the Hoover Institution; Daniel P. Kessler, professor of business and law at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution; and Douglas Rivers, professor of political science at Stanford, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and president of YouGov Polimetrix.

For more information on the Hoover Institution, visit

Entire sample poll results by state.

Tuesday’s Special Election in Massachusetts Foreshadows the Impact of Health Care Reform on U.S. Senate Wins in November