GOP Heads into Repeal Vote with Winning Hand

by Jeffrey H. Anderson

While the political class confidently touts the alleged resurgence of President Obama and patronizingly labels the upcoming vote to repeal his signature initiative as “symbolic,” the truth is that President Obama is the one who’s holding the weak cards.

It’s amazing, really, that anyone could think otherwise. This is a president who recently led his party to the loss of 63 seats in the House of Representatives, more than any party had lost in 62 years. The main reason for that “shellacking” (President Obama’s word) was his insistence that congressional Democrats ignore popular will and pass the highly unpopular health-care overhaul that the House is now going to vote to repeal.

“But,” the political class replies, “the president has gotten more popular since the election.” But has he? While President Obama has indeed enjoyed an uptick in most polls, the Real Clear Politics (RCP) average still shows his approval rating as being slightly below 50 percent. More importantly, none of the polls listed by RCP have screened for likely voters — save one, Rasmussen. On Election Day, Rasmussen showed that 48 percent of likely voters approved of President Obama’s performance, while 51 percent disapproved. Today, that same poll shows that 48 percent of likely voters approve of President Obama’s performance, while 51 percent disapprove. That’s not a lot of progress.

True, President Obama has in fact gained some ground among those who feel strongly: On Election Day, Rasmussen showed that Obama faced 60 percent opposition among those who feel “strongly” about his performance. Now he faces only 58 percent opposition.

Moreover, whatever support President Obama might have, that doesn’t equate to support for Obamacare. Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, says, “The Republicans pushing repeal of the health care law have more American people on their side. They may not have the votes in the Senate, but they have many on Main Street.” Brown adds, “While President Obama’s poll rating has improved in recent weeks, the coalition against his health care plan remains and is quite similar to the one that existed when his numbers were at their nadir.”

Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, three polls have been released this month that have asked Americans the straightforward question of whether they want Obamacare to be repealed or not. Gallup shows Americans favoring repeal by a tally of 46 to 40 percent. Quinnipiac shows Americans favoring repeal by a tally of 48 to 43 percent (54 to 37 percent among independents). And neither of those polls screens for likely voters (although Quinnipiac does screen for registered ones), who tend to support repeal by wider margins. Among likely voters, Rasmussen shows Americans favoring repeal by a tally of 55 to 40 percent, exactly the same tally of 55 to 40 percent that Rasmussen showed during the week of the election.

The widely publicized AP/GfK poll, which didn’t include a representative number of Republicans, didn’t ask respondents a straight yes-or-no question on repeal. Instead, it offered rather ambiguous answers saying that the law should do “more” or “less” — while most Obamacare opponents would likely say that it should do more (to lower health costs) and less (to raise federal spending and consolidate money and power in Washington). Still, by a margin of seven percentage points, even this poll showed support for repeal outpacing support for leaving Obamacare as it is.

Why would the press corps advance such different messages, inflating the popularity of Obama and Obamacare and alike, while correspondingly deflating the popularity of repeal? Perhaps looking deeper into Rasmussen’s polling provides the answer. Among likely voters who aren’t in what Rasmussen labels as the “political class,” Rasmussen shows support for repeal at 67 percent, with only 30 percent opposed. Among likely voters who are in the “political class,” the poll shows support for repeal at 9 percent (!), with 78 percent opposed — a ratio of nearly 9 to 1 against repeal.

So, for what it’s worth, here’s some unsolicited advice for congressional Republicans: Stop believing everything you read in the papers. Believe in your own convictions, and trust that the majority of Americans share them. And then play your winning hand, with confidence.