Will Obamacare decide people’s votes?

obamacareThe current unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – is concerning to Democrats. If it was a reaction to the technical glitches surrounding the launch of the exchanges, then this would be less worrying. Two states elect governors this month and, at the time of writing, Democrats are expected to gain one of these governorships. The next substantive round of elections – the mid-term congressional elections and the concurrent contests for more than 30 governorships – is twelve months away. There is plenty of time to recover from temporary unpopularity. Anyway, right now, Republicans are even more unpopular for their own reasons. No, the problem is not connected directly to the launch. It is that the legislation has been opposed by a plurality of Americans all year.

This legislation has always been controversial. In Kaiser Family Foundation polls, it has not commanded 50% support since the summer of 2010. But then, opposition to the law has not topped 50% since the fall of 2011, and that may well have been a rogue poll. Democrats largely support the law. Republicans largely oppose it. Independents also oppose the law, though not by the margins that Republicans do. This has remained the case for more than three years. However, 2013 has plainly been the low point for the law’s support – at least so far.

In 2010 the legislation averaged more supporters than opponents for most of the year. The public mood only turned against it at the end of the year, after the Republicans made striking gains in the mid-term elections. By 2012, the law was significantly less popular, with more supporters than opponents in only three of the 12 monthly polls. So the president’s signature legislation was popular – or at least more popular than not – in the year his party was trounced at the polls, but significantly less popular in the year he was re-elected. Since then the popular mood has soured still further.

This suggests one of two things: either the healthcare law, for all its significance to the president’s legacy, does not move many votes, or else opponents are more motivated than supporters. Perhaps opponents of the law turned out for the mid-terms, but supporters stayed at home, only choosing to vote in the presidential election. Democrats had better hope that the former explanation applies. Republicans scored their best election since the 1920s when the law was still, marginally, popular. The mood this year has been both more negative and more consistent. Unless things change during 2014, the next mid-terms will be fought in an environment much more favorable to Republicans, at least on this issue, than in the year in which the party gained more than 60 House districts. 

With much of the law still to be implemented it is, obviously, possible that the mood will start to swing soon. But the smooth path to launch that the White House must have hoped for does not seem to have happened. And next year is the year when significant numbers will lose the insurance they presently have and others will start to get fined if they do not take out policies. For those young, healthy, people who do not attract subsidies, these policies will be deliberately expensive, as a subsidy to their richer parents. People with negative net worth will be subsidizing people with the highest net worth in the history of the plant. Oops.

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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