Nine Canadians in ten remain supportive of universal health care, and seven Canadians in ten think Barack Obama is on the right track in pursuing health reform in the United States.

These are the principal findings of the latest Nanos Research poll conducted exclusively for Policy Options. We interviewed 1,005 Canadians by telephone from October 10-18, with a margin of error of 3.1 percent, 19 times out of 20.

These numbers are way beyond any margin of error. There are very few, if any, pillars of Canadian public policy of which Canadians approve as strongly as the principle of universal health care, which has been with us since it was first adopted by the Pearson government in the 1960s.

The principle is simple and understood by virtually all Canadians " health care is universal, and it is delivered by a single insurer, the government.

Fully 89.9 percent of Canadians support or somewhat support universal health care, and within those two response groups, the vast majority, 79.9 percent or four Canadians in five, give their unqualified endorsement, while another 10 percent are somewhat supportive.

There are really no important regional variations on this theme. Unqualified support for universal health care is strongest in Ontario (83 percent), and weakest on the Prairies (76.8), where the story of public health care began, with Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan.

Looking at the question of universal health care by demographics, unqualified support is actually strongest in the youngest cohort of 18 to 29 years of age, where 82.3 percent expressed unreserved support, closely aligned with 81.4 percent of clear supporters among the 60-plus age group. The first demographic, the least likely to need or even think about needing public health care, is every bit as supportive as the cohort most likely to be in need of it.

Looking south to the current health care debate in the US, 71.3 percent of Canadians think Barack Obama ”œis on the right track when it comes to making changes to the health care system in the United States.”

Only 7.3 percent of Canadians feel he was on the wrong track, while another 21.4 percent are unsure.

Regionally, there are some interesting variations. In Quebec fully 82.4 percent think President Obama is on the right track, which may also indicate support levels for the man as much as what he is proposing. Elsewhere in the country, 65.0 percent of respondents in Atlantic Canada think Obama is on the right track, while 73.8 percent of Ontarians think so, with 59.6 percent in the Prairies and 67.6 percent in British Columbia.

Publicly funded universal health care swamped all other positive attrib- utes when we asked Canadians: ”œWhat do you think is the key strength of the Canadian health care system?”

Fully 61.4 percent of respondents chose public health care, accessible to everyone. Nothing else is even in dou- ble digits.

For example, only 4 percent of Canadians cited doctors and nurses, and other health care providers. Only 1.6 percent cited the quality of servic- es, and only 1.5 percent named gov- ernment funding and investments in the public system.

But these low numbers also suggest a disquieting reverse approval rating " for example, research/medical resources/medical awareness " were cited by just 1.2 percent of respon- dents. Emergency services and ambu- lances were named by only 0.7 percent. This doesn’t speak highly of the research component in Canada’s health care system or of the quality of services in often chaotic ERs.

And when we asked Canadians what they consider the key weakness of the Canadian health care system, they were again quite unequivocal in their answer.

Waiting times for treatment was named by 32.7 percent, one respon- dent in three. This was identified as the most urgent problem in the sys- tem by a margin of two- and-a-half to one over the next one down, a short- age of doctors, nurses and other providers, which came in at 13.8 percent. A lack of resources or govern- ment funding was next, at 9.7 per- cent, while hospital mismanagement/ organization/service quality was named by 9.6 percent.

All of those secondary factors are, of course, drivers of the bigger number on waiting times.

In summary, Canadians love their universal health care, but they think there is room for improvement in delivering it. And they definitely think Barack Obama is on the right track in the United States.