Obamacare Can’t Be the GOP’s 2014 Silver Bullet

by John McLaughlin & Jim McLaughlin
Polling suggests they’re going to need a bandolier.

We completed our most recent monthly McLaughlinOnline.com National Survey on February 13. In that poll of 1,000 likely voters, President Obama had a net negative job approval: 44 percent of voters approve and 54 percent disapprove. In almost all our recent polls since the Obamacare website’s crash-and-burn rollout, the president’s job rating is usually identical to the level of voter disapproval for Obamacare.

Many Republican strategists now see this as a parallel dynamic similar to what the Iraq War issue did in 2006 to President Bush’s job approval, costing the Republicans their Senate and House majorities. That year, Democrats for the House got 54 percent of the national vote. Here’s what the 2006 national media post-election survey showed:

42 percent approved of the Iraq War and 56 percent disapproved.
If you disapproved of the war in Iraq, you voted for Democrats for Congress 80–18.
If you disapproved of the job President Bush was doing, you voted for Democrats for Congress 82–16.

The Democrats’ 2006 strategy was simple: Drive up the disapproval of the Iraq War, which drove up President Bush’s disapproval, which drove up the vote for Democrats for Congress.

In theory, that same kind of strategy with Obamacare should expand the Republicans’ House majority and win the Senate this November.

That’s what Mitt Romney’s campaign thought, in theory, about the economy, that it would be a “silver-bullet issue” to the exclusion of security and other issues. It didn’t work.

It seems to be that the same kind of groupthink of Obamacare as a “silver-bullet issue” is dominating Republican strategists in 2014. Because of Obamacare’s woes, then, we wish the election were tomorrow, but it’s not.

With months to go this strategy seems too one dimensional. It severely underestimates the incumbent president’s and the Senate majority’s power to reset the agenda even as late as October.

Here’s the real problem: As mentioned, in our recently completed February national poll President Obama had a 54 percent disapproval rating, but the generic ballot for Congress was only tied at 41 percent for Republicans and 41 percent for Democrats. Eighteen percent were undecided.

Among the undecideds for Congress, only 28 percent approve the job the president is doing, and 66 percent disapprove. In theory, by opposing President Obama, the Republicans have another twelve points available to them — getting them to as much as 53 percent of the national vote for Congress.

However, here’s a problem with the theory: In our poll 20 percent of all voters nationally disapprove of Obama but do not yet say they’ll vote to elect Republicans to Congress. These voters will decide the November election.

Among those who disapprove of Obama but aren’t planning to vote GOP, fully 36 percent are still voting for a Democrat for Congress. The other 64 percent remain undecided.

In other words, opposition to Obama is not a “silver bullet” strategy.

So the Republican strategic class has some fundamental questions to ask: Who are these key swing voters? Why aren’t they voting for Republicans? How do Republicans persuade them to vote for them in November?

Here are some insights from our national poll about these Obama disapprovers who aren’t voting Republican:

They don’t identify as Republicans. Only 7 percent are Republicans. Sixty percent are independents, but a full 30 percent are Democrats.
They’re mostly not conservatives: Only 23 percent call themselves conservatives. A full 27 percent are liberals, and  51 percent are moderates.
They are more likely to be working class: The mean annual household income of voters in our poll was $60,000 — in the swing group annual household income drops to $53,000. About half  make less than $40,000 a year.
They are not, for the most part, the Christian Protestant vote that decides most Republican primaries. Twenty-nine percent are Catholics, 3 percent are Jewish, and 15 percent  Atheist/agnostic. Of the 45 percent that are Protestants, only 46 percent are Evangelical Christians, adding up to only one-fifth of the total.
They are mostly white: 83 percent are white, 10 percent Hispanic, 5 percent African-American, and 2 percent Asian.
They’re younger than the mean voter: Only 12 percent are seniors and 20 percent are under 30 years old and 67 percent are under 55.
Fifty-seven percent of them are women.

On the issues, most may disapprove of Obamacare, but they don’t seem to know where Republicans are on other issues and may agree with Democrats on some important ones. The Republicans need to set a broader issue agenda, in other words, to win them over. Our findings on the issues (some of them from our January poll for our client the YG Network):

The majority strongly supports the idea, when asked, of cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent to create jobs.
They don’t seem to like welfare expansion: 56–27, they say that they agree that Obama has massively expanded the welfare state.
74 percent favored raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour, but only 34 percent said that it would make their lives better.
62 percent said that it was more important to create economic growth to produce new jobs and pay raises for middle-class families than to raise the minimum wage.
66 percent thought that the states, not the federal government, should set the minimum wage.
63 percent said they preferred policies focused on economic growth rather than income inequality (33 percent preferred the latter).
It may be the same thinkers who told Mitt Romney to run only on the economy who are telling us that Obamacare is a “silver bullet” and that’s all Republicans need. They blew it in 2012, dropping points on Benghazi, national security, and even the response to Hurricane Sandy. According to the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Romney lost in the very last week.

Without a doubt, Republicans need to keep driving up the president’s disapproval by citing Obamacare’s failures, but they also need to do the same on his economic failures and even national-security issues (e.g., terrorism, the possibility of a nuclear Iran, defense cuts, and now the situation in Ukraine).

November is months away, but it’s likely that the Republicans need several bullets to win this election.

— John McLaughlin and Jim McLaughlin are Republican strategists and partners in the national polling firm McLaughlin & Associates.

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