Obamacare has not won the people’s hearts and minds. Despite wildly positive media coverage and the triumphant White House signing ceremony, surveys find public support for the new law dropping like a stone. Support in the most recent CBS poll has fallen to a dismal 32 percent, with opposition up to a new high of 53 percent. The same trend was apparent in polls conducted by Fox News and Rasmussen. Nearly six of every ten voters now support outright repeal, according to the most recent Rasmussen survey.
The polls reveal that frustration is particularly acute among political independents. Over half of the independents in the CBS poll, for example, thought the new law would increase their health-care costs; only 13 percent thought their costs would come down. Similarly, 42 percent expect Obamacare to deliver lower-quality care; only 13 percent expect it to deliver better care. By six to one (67–11 percent) they dismiss outright the claims by the president and Hill leaders that the new law will cut federal deficits.
Such intense animosity offers an opening for lawmakers who want to build voter enthusiasm for a market-oriented approach to health-care reform, which would be far less costly and would give Americans far greater freedom.
Democrats used to have an advantage in public opinion on this issue. Over the past two decades, however, Gallup surveys that have asked voters which party they trust to handle the health-care issue found that the gap between Republicans and Democrats narrowed whenever the GOP actively promoted its market-oriented alternative view.
The gap shrank in 1993 (after Republicans fought the Clinton health-care bill). It narrowed again in 1997–98 (when the GOP promoted a balanced budget, including provisions to slow the growth of health-care entitlements). Now, after a year of debate on Obamacare, the gap has closed once again.
A recent Rasmussen survey echoes the Gallup findings. It found that likely voters give Republicans a significant edge over Democrats (53 to 37 percent) on health care, a sea change compared with a year ago. The same poll shows that the GOP enjoys an even larger advantage among independents (58 to 22 percent), also a considerable improvement compared with November 2008.
In the past, lawmakers espousing free-market ideas on health care would abandon the playing field to liberals once the media ceased focusing on health care. Like a scrum of six-year-old boys following the soccer ball, they would pursue the next hot issue while liberals kept plugging away, adding new layers to Medicaid and transforming what once was a relatively modest program for children’s health insurance into a mushrooming entitlement that now covers childless adults with middle-class lifestyles.
This time must be different. Republicans and the moderate Democrats who opposed Obamacare must remain on the playing field. They must keep highlighting the many problems with this legislation and work tirelessly to convert nascent voter trust into a more permanent attachment. Only then will we have a realistic shot at replacing Obamacare with a better, market-oriented alternative.