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Americans have actually lost faith in Obamacare’s fix-ability since its worst moments in November

Written by . Posted in 2014 Campaigns

Published on May 12, 2014

The new CNN poll released yesterday contains a couple of interesting results about Obamacare. The first is the simple question of whether it’s a success or a failure. Among those who feel they can answer the question at this stage, the result is three-to-one, just slightly improved from November, at the height of HealthCare.gov’s problems. 

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Independent voters, who powered Democrats to a majority in the 2006 Midterm with an 18-point margin, then turned around and voted Republican by a 19-point margin in 2010, are five-to-one in their belief that Obamacare is a failure.

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(An aside — the Republican sample here is more likely to say the law is a failure than the conservative sample. I’m not sure if that’s significant, but it is weird.)

This should flavor your interpretation of how Obamacare plays out as an issue. Greg Sargent at the Washington Post is fond of pointing out that most people tell pollsters they just want to see Obamacare changed, not repealed. He’s technically correct, and this poll is no exception, with 38 percent supporting “repeal,” 12 percent wanting to keep it as is and 49 percent wanting to “make some changes.” But it would be a mistake to read this as somehow justifying Obamacare as a political issue. For one thing, if people still view Obamacare as a failure this long after the website problems have been cleared up, that’s a political disaster. Even if we didn’t have ongoing problems with state exchangesaccess to care and 2015 premium increases to make up for the disproportionately old age of enrollees, we’d at least be able to say that Obamacare’s bad first impression has stuck.

Second, even if only the most unpopular parts of the law are “changed,” it becomes a repeal in practical terms. Congress could easily grab the low-hanging fruit by repealing the individual mandate and the tax hikes, then loosen coverage requirements, and at that point, what’s even left except state Medicaid expansions? (Remember — the law’s subsidies would simply phase out for a lot of people if premiums were to fall substantially.) 

The success/failure number is ominous, but I find this other result equally interesting:

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Whatever definition we want to assign to “solved,” the numbers have deteriorated since mid-November, and the lines are converging. If people continue to believe overwhelmingly that Obamacare is a failure, and have less and not more faith today that Obamacare will be fixed than they did at the height of the computer problems that plagued HealthCare.gov, it looks like a very negative political issue, regardless of whether Republicans use “repeal” in their general election rhetoric or just campaign for changes that would be tantamount to repeal.

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