Dependence on Uncle Sam won’t grow

There are a host of reasons to be fearful of the Democrats’ healthcare plan, but I want to take one off the table. Despite fears that this “government takeover of healthcare” will make more Americans feel dependent on government, I have my doubts. If anything, it might create a new reason for Americans to feel alienated from government.

Bear in mind that my views on this topic have nothing to do with the reality of what is happening. It may be that government is swallowing up an additional 15 to 20 percent of the economy. But my argument is not about economics. It’s about mindshare. Will the government getting more involved in healthcare make more Americans more of the time conclude that government influences their livelihood? Based on the precedents of agriculture and Social Security, I don’t think this will happen.


I became interested in attitudes and perceptions about economic dependency during the agriculture crises of the 1980s. In trying to figure out who cared about ag issues, someone suggested that I poll voters to ask them what percentage of their livelihood depended on agriculture. The expectation was that many non-farmers would recognize the portion of their income stream that flowed from agriculture. The insurance agent would remember his farm policyholders. The tire salesman would recall his tractor tire sales. The doctor would acknowledge her rural farm patients. People not directly involved in farming should be aware of their indirect dependency on agriculture. At least that was the idea. The poll results were disappointing. Although agriculture is the mainstay of Iowa’s economy, nowhere near a commensurate percentage acknowledged economic dependency on government.

Just last year, I asked a statewide sample of voters in Iowa to identify “the industry or area of business that most affects the income and financial security” of themselves and their family, offering a pick-list of eight options. Only 15 percent chose agriculture and 15 percent selected government (including the military). Anyone who knows anything about Iowa’s economy and demographics knows that agriculture dominates the economy and that a huge percentage of Iowans are senior citizens receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits. Yet 70 percent of that electorate chose something else as the source of their economic dependency, sectors like healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, retail and education.

One important observation here is that almost no farmers will own up to being economically dependent on government, even though the intrusion of government into agriculture is comparable to, or even greater than, the anticipated intrusions of government into healthcare under the Obama-backed plan. Farmers deal with myriad agriculture subsidies, land-use regulations, chemical restrictions, ag import and export restrictions and endless other government intrusions into their lives and businesses, but they still won’t “say uncle” and admit that government most affects their income and financial security. If farmers won’t say that government controls agriculture, then you can’t expect their insurance agents, tire salesmen and physicians to believe that either.

This brings us back to healthcare. Will government intruding more than ever into healthcare even make doctors and other healthcare sector voters feel beholden to government as never before? Will they feel beholden to government and obliged to cow down to government? Farmers don’t, so why should physicians? If Medicare and Social Security participants won’t tell me that they depend on government for their income and financial security, why do we think that millions of younger Americans will start thinking this way just because they get healthcare due to government action?

If anything, government’s broadened intrusion into healthcare will just give Americans one more reason to complain about government and raise hell. Don’t like your treatment options? Blame government. Co-pays going up? Congress is at fault. But never feel that you are economically dependent on government.

David Hill has been a Republican pollster since 1984. This cycle he is polling for gubernatorial campaigns in four states.