On key policy areas, majority of voters say presidential election outcome will make a great deal of difference

For immediate release: Tuesday, October 28, 2008

As part of the ongoing poll series, Debating Health: Election 2008, the Harvard Public Opinion Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Harris Interactive® conducted a new survey focused on whether voters believe the results of this presidential election will make “a great deal of difference” in the state of the nation’s health care and other key policy areas. Although much has been made of voter cynicism in recent times, a majority of registered voters believe the outcome of this election will make a great deal of difference on key issues including the war in Iraq (63%), the economy (52%), the war in Afghanistan (50%), and national security (50%). This survey was conducted between October 16-19, 2008, by telephone among a national cross section of 957 registered voters in the United States.

“Although much attention has been paid to the presidential candidates’ characters, many voters see this election as making a great deal of difference to a number of critical issues facing the country,” says Robert Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health.

For most Obama voters, the outcome of this election is seen as making a great deal of difference for health care (59%). However, only a minority of McCain voters share this view (40%).

“These findings confirm that Democrats care more than Republicans about health care policies,” says Humphrey Taylor, Chairman of The Harris Poll®. “During the primary season, Professor Blendon showed us that health care was much more important in Democratic than in Republican primaries. Now Obama voters are more likely than McCain voters to think that the result of the election will make a big difference to the health care system.”

By contrast, McCain voters are much more likely than Obama voters to believe the election results will make a great deal of difference in terms of national security (66% vs. 42%). The difference between McCain and Obama voters’ views of the impact of this election is not as great when it comes to other major issues, including the war in Iraq (67% vs. 62%), the economy (52% vs. 59%), and the war in Afghanistan (56% vs. 49%).

There are two key campaign issues that most voters do not believe will be impacted by the outcome of the election in a major way. Relatively few voters believe the election outcome will make a great deal of difference when it comes to education (33%) or the price of gas (26%).


Table 1

Whether the Outcome of the Presidential Election Makes a Difference to
Health Care and Other Issues: Those Saying It Will Make A Great Deal of Difference


“Thinking about the November 2008 presidential election, how much difference do you think it will make to [ISSUE] whether Senator Barack Obama or Senator John McCain is elected? Would you say… [A great deal of difference, Some difference, No difference]”


Registered Voters (%)

Obama Voters (%)

McCain Voters (%)

War in Iraq








War in Afghanistan




National Security




Health Care




Ethical Standards in DC




Financial and Banking Crisis








Price of Gas




Note: statistically significant differences between Obama and McCain voters (at the p<.05 level) have been bolded.


Base: 957 Registered Voters

Source: Debating Health: Election 2008, Harvard School of Public Health/Harris Interactive

October 16-19, 2008


This survey is part of the series, Debating Health: Election 2008. The series focuses on current health issues in the presidential campaign. The survey design team includes Professor Robert Blendon, Gillian SteelFisher, John Benson and Kathleen Weldon of the Harvard School of Public Health; and Humphrey Taylor, Scott Hawkins and Justin Greeves of Harris Interactive.

This survey was conducted by telephone within the United States among a nationwide cross section of adults aged 18 and over, and statistics here focus on those who are registered to vote. The survey was conducted between October 16-19, 2008 among a representative sample of 957 respondents. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, number of adults in the household, size of place (urbanicity) and number of phone lines in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

All sample surveys and polls are subject to multiple sources of error including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. The sampling error for registered voters is +/- 3.2% in 95 out of 100 cases for results based on the entire sample. For results based on a smaller subset, the sampling error is somewhat larger.

About the Harvard School of Public Health

Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery, and communication. More than 400 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 1,000-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights. For more information on the school visit: www.hsph.harvard.edu

About Harris Interactive

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Press Contact:
Todd Datz
Harvard School of Public Health

Carol Fricke
Harris Interactive