Americans Split on Health Care as Moral Responsibility

When President Obama delivered his speech on health care to a joint session of Congress in early September, he talked of the need for health care reform as a moral obligation. He quoted a letter written by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy: "What we face is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."

The latest CBS News/New York Times Poll, conducted September 19-23, finds that Americans divide on whether or not the federal government has a moral responsibility to guarantee health care for everyone: 47 percent say the government does, while 48 percent believe it does not. Special Report: Health Care

Most age groups split on this question, with the exception of those age 65 and over. While seniors are eligible for Medicare -- a health program administered by the government – 55 percent of them do not think the government has a moral responsibility to guarantee health coverage for all Americans. Seniors also give Mr. Obama his lowest ratings on health care of any age group. Just 38 percent of them approve.

In terms of gender, half of women consider providing health care to everyone to be a moral responsibility, while 53 percent of men oppose that view.

Yes No
Overall 47% 48%
Age 18-29 49% 48%
Age 30-44 50% 46%
Age 45-64 49% 46%
Age 65+ 35% 55%
Men 44% 53%
Women 50% 44%

As might be expected, there are differences along party and ideological lines. Solid majorities of Democrats (65 percent) and liberals (72 percent) believe providing health coverage to all Americans is the government's moral responsibility, while most Republicans (69 percent) and conservatives (68 percent) disagree. Fifty-three percent of independents do not view guaranteeing health coverage as the government's moral responsibility.

Yes No
Overall 47% 48%
Republicans 27% 69%
Democrats 65% 30%
Independents 42% 53%
Liberals 72% 25%
Moderates 49% 45%
Conservatives 29% 68%

Also, one's own quality of care greatly impacts views on this question. Americans satisfied with the quality of health care they receive are less inclined to think the government should guarantee health insurance for everyone. Most who are dissatisfied believe the government has that moral obligation.

Yes No
Overall 47% 48%
Satisfied with quality of own health care 41% 54%
Dissatisfied with quality of own health care 70% 25%

Jennifer De Pinto is manager of election and survey information for CBS News. Poll Positions is weekly Hotsheet feature on polling trends from the CBS News Survey and Polling Unit. Click here for more posts from the series.