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April 11, 2014 7:07 AM How to Assess ObamaCare’s Role in the Midterms

By Martin Longman

Since Easter is almost upon us, I guess it is a good time to talk about the wisdom of putting all your eggs in one basket or, alternatively, the wisdom of trying to make the midterm elections a referendum on ObamaCare.

But, before I get to that, I want to briefly discuss my philosophy of handling polling data. I trust polling data the least when it attempts to weigh public opinion on issues rather than electoral preferences. The reason for this is twofold. First, polling of issues is usually solicited by issue advocates and only released if a favorable result is found. Second, issue polling is literally never verified. We eventually learned exactly what the public thought about Obama vs. Romney, but we never learned exactly what the public thought about abortion rights or Bain Capital. We can judge how accurate the various pollsters were in predicting the presidential election, but we can’t ever judge how accurate they are or were in polling the issues.

Having said that, electoral polling done close to an election is the best predictor of the results, and you can use a resource like Nate Silver to get the best predictive value out of electoral polling data. I don’t believe in “skewed polls” for elections, provided that you have a system for accounting for outliers and adjusting for institutional bias. In contrast, I place little value on polls about ObamaCare that are taken now and expected to tell us how the midterms will play out.

As Greg Sargent notes, the concern about the public’s opinion of ObamaCare is less about the law’s overall popularity and more about the potential for opposition among Republicans to provide them with a motivational advantage in terms of voter turnout.

As we’ve seen with opposition to reproductive rights, it can be less important what the public as a whole thinks about an issue than how impassioned people are about the issue. Therefore, I think it’s more important to keep track of how opposed the Republican base is to ObamaCare than what the total population thinks.

As many have already pointed out, one of the most serious political problems Democrats face in 2014 is that Republicans are far more motivated by hatred of Obamacare than Dems are by their approval of the law. And some new polling just released by Pew Research captures this very nicely.

The poll’s basic finding: While a minority of Republicans say the law has personally impacted them in a negative way (39-52), Republicans overwhelmingly say the law is currently harming the country overall (69 percent) and say in even greater numbers (73 percent) that the law will harm the country overall. Republicans believe those things in far greater numbers than independents.

That perhaps helps explain the other key finding: Republicans are far more likely to say a candidate’s stance on the ACA will be “very important” to their midterm vote (64 percent) than either independents (45 percent) or Democrats (52 percent). The intensity is with the Obamacare-haters, which could help exacerbate the “midterm dropoff” problem Dems would already be facing.

If the midterms were going to be held in May, the Democrats would have a real problem.

But they aren’t going to be held in May. And the polling suggests that the Republicans have a problem that isn’t going to go away and is only going to grow worse.

The Obamacare Intensity Gap is a real problem for Dems. But the above helps explain why Republicans, too, face complications. They are constrained from advocating only for repeal, because the law’s provisions are kicking in for millions, and they are broadly popular. But they are also constrained from offering any meaningful alternative, because as Jonathan Cohn explains well, that would require supporting the tradeoffs necessary to accomplish what Obamacare accomplishes. Republicans either have to quietly back away from repeal or support ”replacing” it with something that looks a lot like Obamacare. Yet both are nonstarters because the base won’t allow for it to be anything other than an unremitting catastrophe.

Actually, the Republican strategy is dependent on ObamaCare being an unremitting (unmitigated?) disaster. This is why I talked about putting all your eggs in one basket. The law was supposed to provide health insurance that no one wanted and it was supposed to collapse of its own weight. Basically, the Republicans thought the law would work out about as well as the invasion of Iraq and that they would look wise for opposing it. That’s obviously not going to happen.

And the poll results already reflect that, with the number of people supporting complete repeal plummeting even among Republicans. And that’s a key, because the advantage the Republicans have on the issue is much more a matter of a differential advantage in base motivation than it is on the merits. A minority of Americans support the Republicans’ repeal rhetoric, and their disadvantage there is only going to grow with each passing month.

Martin Longman is the Web Editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune. He has worked as a community organizer for ACORN/Project Vote and as a political consultant for Democracy for America.

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