Obamacare and the Midterms

by Ramesh Ponnuru

“Low turnout, not Obamacare, poses chief threat, Democrats say,” is a headline in the Los Angeles Times today. Okay, but aren’t these two things related? Doesn’t the unpopularity of Obamacare (and the unpopularity of Obama to which it contributes) demoralize Democrats and make them less likely to vote, and at the same time enrage Republicans and make them more likely to? The article doesn’t mention the possibility — although it includes a quote from a Democratic pollster that suggests that’s part of what’s happening.

It does mention a poll that lends credence to the Democratic spin that Obamacare was fought to a draw in the special House election in Florida on Tuesday. “A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, released Wednesday, for example, asked voters whether they would prefer a Democrat who wants to fix the healthcare law or a Republican who wants to repeal it. The result was a near-even split, with 48% supporting the Democrat and 47% the Republican.” I am well aware of the fact that Republicans sometimes exaggerate how unpopular Obamacare is. But this poll question doesn’t seem fairly worded to me. It’s a test of “repeal” vs. “fix,” with no option to “repeal and replace,” which is what most Republicans say they want to do. It’s true that Republicans aren’t generally very specific about how they would replace the law, but they’re at least as specific as Democrats are about how they would fix it. “Repeal and replace” vs. “keep and fix” would be a fair contrast, and so would “repeal” vs. “keep.” The wording the pollsters chose seems like it would give the Democratic side an artificial boost. (The same seems to be true of the wording of the other poll mentioned in the article, at least judging from the pollster’s write-up.)

Alec MacGillis might be right to say that Democrats would do well to press on Medicaid expansion, which does seem like it could be a political vulnerability for the Republicans. That might mitigate the Democrats’ Obamacare problem. It makes more sense, at any rate, than reading these polls and invoking “turnout” to wish away the problem.

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