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CNN poll: 8-in-10 favor presidential exams for health, mental well-being

Americans continue to broadly support annual checkups for their commander in chief, according to a new CNN poll condu...

Posted: Jan 23, 2018 3:50 PM
Updated: Jan 23, 2018 3:50 PM

Americans continue to broadly support annual checkups for their commander in chief, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, but they are divided about how much information about his or her health a president ought to make public.

The poll finds that 82% feel a president should be required to take an annual physical examination to check the condition of his physical health. Only slightly fewer, 77%, say a president should be required to take an annual exam to check for mental conditions, such as Alzheimer's Disease or depression.

Support for mental and physical exams similar to 2004

Public divided on whether a president has the right to keep health records private

Younger Americans, women more supportive of required mental exams for presidents

The broad support for required checkups are perhaps not surprising in light of another finding in the poll: 90% say a president's health is important to his ability to do the job well, including 64% who consider it "very important."

Support for both physical and mental exams for the president are about the same as they were in polling conducted during the 2004 presidential campaign, when 84% favored annual physical exams and 79% backed annual mental checkups.

But public opinion has shifted away from presidential privacy. In the 2004 survey, 61% felt that presidents should have "the same right as every other citizen to keep his medical records private," while 38% thought presidents "should publicly release all medical information that might affect his ability to serve his term as president."

Now, Americans are about evenly divided on this question, with 48% in favor of release of health information about a president and 49% saying the president should be allowed to maintain his privacy.

That shift comes mostly among Democrats. Back in 2004, 57% of them said presidents should have the right to keep their health records private. Now, just 37% say the same. Independents have shifted by a smaller margin, from 60% in favor of privacy then to 50% now.

The poll was conducted shortly after President Donald Trump's annual physical exam, and was in the field when the results of his physical were made public at a White House press briefing last Tuesday. There was no meaningful difference between results among respondents interviewed before and those interviewed after the results were released.

White House doctor Ronny Jackson said Trump was in "excellent" health after a physical exam. He also said Trump showed no signs for concern on a short cognitive assessment. Some doctors, though, expressed concern that Trump's results indicated an elevated risk for a heart attack.

Majorities across parties said they favored requiring both physical and mental exams for sitting presidents. But Democrats were generally more apt than Republicans or independents to favor both types of exam (89% of Democrats, 80% of Republicans and 79% of independents favored required physicals; 93% of Democrats, 73% of independents and 61% of Republicans backed annual mental exams).

The poll also found some demographic divides in support for the two types of exams. While younger Americans were more apt than older ones to back mandatory mental health exams (81% among those under age 45 vs. 74% among those age 45 or older), older Americans expressed stronger backing for a mandatory physical exam than their younger counterparts, 86% vs. 79%. Women were also more likely to back a mandatory mental health exam than men, 84% vs. 70%.

The CNN poll was conducted by SSRS January 14-18 among a random national sample of 1,005 adults reached on landlines or cellphones by a live interviewer. No interviewing was completed on January 16 due to weather conditions at call center locations. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, it is larger for subgroups.

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