As we drift towards an increasingly likely government shutdown (to be followed quite possibly by another debt default crisis generated by the same people) triggered by Republican demands that the Affordable Care Act be “defunded” or delayed, there’s fresh evidence in a new Pew survey that Obamacare obstructionists have crucially misunderstood public opinion.
Of the 53% who told Pew they “disapprove” of Obamacare, 27% say they want elected officials to “make it work as well as possible, while only 23% say their solons should “make it fail.” Since 42% approve of Obamacare, that’s nearly seven out of ten Americans who presumably don’t want to throw sand into the gears of the new system. Even if the “make it fail” wording is a bit prejudicial, that’s still a formidable gap in public opinion between those who want to give the law a chance to work and those who think it’s some sort of tyrannical abomination that needs to be put down like a rabid animal.
Will such numbers give pause to anti-Obamacare ultras? Maybe not. Among the 85% of Republicans who disapprove of the ACA, “make it fail” fans lead 43/37, a margin that rises sharply to 64/24 among the 94% of self-identified Tea Party Republicans who disapprove of the law. Greg Sargent asked some follow-up questions of the Pew folk, and learned that the “make it fail” caucus includes 53% of Republicans who say they always vote in primaries. So we’re talking about the hard core of the GOP “base,” which for Republican members in Congress, often means the foundation for a potential primary challenge from the right (the only real electoral threat to most of these birds).
But beyond the static public opinion numbers right now, there’s some additional evidence from a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll suggesting that opposition to Obamacare has a soft underbelly. As Wonkblog’s Sarah Kliff points out, the law’s most obvious beneficiaries, the uninsured, barely support Obamacare (49/46), and are exceptionally uninformed or confused about its provisions. Now some of these folk are Young Invincibles with incomes too high to benefit from premium subsidies, who are natural Obamacare opponents, but there aren’t a lot of them. Much larger groups are those largely excluded from private health insurance by preexisting conditions, who will get relief on January 1, while others don’t for one reason or another have employer-based insurance and can’t afford private health insurance and don’t currently qualify for Medicaid (e.g., low-wage workers without dependent children in states with parsimonious Medicaid programs). Many of them will soon realize they are now eligible for Medicaid, or that they would have been eligible if Republican governors and/or legislators in their states hadn’t blocked the Medicaid expansion.
Add in the people who don’t like the ACA because they favor more liberal government-provided health care and the ranks of the “opposed” seem very likely to melt unless implementation turns out to be a complete fiasco. And then add on to those the really hard core of Obamacare opponents, according to the NBC/WSJ survey: seniors eligible for Medicare who have been misinformed about ACA’s impact on their own benefits. When they realize that’s not true, I suspect the majority percentage (55%) of them that currently think Obamacare is a “bad idea” may decline significantly.
All in all, the defunders/delayers are representing a minority of a slim majority that is very likely to shrink in the months ahead. Perhaps they are truly motivated by their own conviction that the law will enslave Americans and wreck the economy. But if they are counting on a political bonanza outside their own ranks, they are definitely cruising for a bruising, and that’s without even taking into account the additional beating they’ll take for disproportionate blame in shutting down the government or risking a debt default.
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