A proposal to expand Medicaid to up to 400,000 low-income residents is losing support in Virginia, poll results released Thursday suggest.
A majority of voters, 53 percent, now say eligibility for the federal healthcare benefit — a key part of President Obama's Affordable Care Act — should not be broadened. That number is up sharply from the 38 percent who opposed Medicaid expansion in February, according to results of a survey conducted by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.
The poll results show 41 percent of respondents support the proposal, down from 56 percent who said they favored it two months ago.
The issue largely falls along partisan lines, with 77 percent of Democrats favoring expansion and 87 percent of Republicans opposing. But the poll showed that just 35 percent of those who identified themselves as independent favored the plan while 55 percent said they opposed.
Even in the D.C. suburbs, where support was strongest, respondents remained divided, with 49 percent favoring expansion and 47 percent opposing it.
"Democrats are losing the debate on expanding Medicaid in Virginia," said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center. "This is mostly because they are not convincing independents that it's a good idea. But, significantly, even in the usually friendly territory of Northern Virginia, the debate is not going their way."
The ongoing standoff over Medicaid expansion is having other effects, as well. With approval of the state's two-year budget on hold until the issue is resolved, a government shutdown looms on July 1.
While 61 percent of respondents indicated they were "not very worried" or "not worried at all" about the prospect of a shutdown, they said they would blame lawmakers in the Democrat-led Senate and the Republican-led House equally.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents said Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who last year pledged on the campaign trail to expand Medicaid, will shoulder a "lot" or "some" of the blame for a shutdown.
An overwhelming majority, 73 percent, said in the case of a shutdown, the Democratic governor should keep essential functions of the state running through executive order.
"This may be the silver lining for the governor," Mr. Kidd said. "While a shutdown would mean he has not succeeded in the Medicaid expansion debate, a shutdown may also give him the opportunity to lead boldly."
Forty-four percent of respondents said they approve of the job Mr. McAuliffe is doing as governor, compared to 32 percent who disapprove. A similar poll released in January showed that former Gov. Bob McDonnell had a 49 percent job-approval rating even after his indictment on federal corruption charges.
And while half of respondents in the February poll said the state was headed in the right direction compared to 34 percent who said Virginia was going in the wrong direction, a majority — at 44 percent — now think Virginia is going in the wrong direction compared to 42 percent who say the state is on the right track.
The poll of 806 registered voters was conducted from April 16-22 and had a 3.5 percent margin of error.
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