Democrats Love Free College, Until You Offer Them More Options

Progressive policy ideas have mastered the early stages of the Democratic main campaign. However, as applicants gather in Los Angeles for the following argument on Thursday evening, Democratic voters could be looking for more moderate choices.

Just one in four Democratic voters states they would prefer eliminating personal health insurance and substituting it with a government-run strategy — the centerpiece of this”Medicare for all” proposals put forward by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. And one in three prefers earning people college tuition for all Americans regardless of income, yet another notion shared by both major progressives in the race.

But those earlier surveys asked simple yes-or-no questions. The most recent survey offered respondents more options to choose from. And it found that Democratic voters consistently preferred policies that were well to the left of current law, but were more moderate than those proposed by Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren.

Most Democrats, for example — 58 percent — said they would like to make government-run insurance universally available, while allowing people to keep their private insurance if they prefer it, a policy similar to the “Medicare for all who want it” plan proposed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and a related proposal from former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. A further 15 percent said the United States should reform the health care system without adopting a government-run plan at all, or that the current system was working well. Only 25 percent said they would prefer a Medicare for all plan that eliminates private insurance.

The preference for more moderate policies cuts across age groups, races, education levels and even ideology: Among Democrats who said they were “liberal” or “very liberal,” only 30 percent chose the most progressive option for health care reform.

Ms. Korchonnoff, 31, said the lawmakers should make health care available to all, especially low- and moderate-income people who do not qualify for existing government programs but struggle to afford insurance through the subsidized marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act.

“Making it available to people who cannot afford to buy marketplace insurance is very important,” she said.

The Times survey showed similar results when it came to “free college” proposals. About a third of Democrats said that the government should make public colleges free to low- and moderate-income families, but that the wealthy should still have to pay — again a policy close to that proposed by Mr. Buttigieg. Another third said that college should be more affordable but that most families should have to pay something. The remaining third expressed the most liberal position, that college should be free for all.

Voters also sounded a note of caution about the cost of candidates’ plans: Half of Democrats said the United States should adopt progressive proposals only if they do not increase the budget deficit, compared to 38 percent who said they supported the plans regardless of their fiscal impact. Both Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren say they will pay for their plans through higher taxes, not through borrowing more money.

In interviews, voters gave different reasons for their positions. Some said they thought the most liberal positions went too far or questioned whether they would work in practice. Others were more focused on political strategy, concerned that liberal positions would hurt Democrats in the general election next fall.

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