For those willing to look, “the Court” has ruled on Obamacare. The court of public opinion, that is. A look at recent polling only reinforces the electorate’s negative perception of the administration’s health-care overhaul. Most troubling for the White House is that the verdict — and its political consequences — could actually get worse.
Two polls released last week do not simply confirm the public’s dissatisfaction with Obamacare, they show how dangerously deep it is.
On March 26, CNN/ORC International released a poll (1,014 adults, margin of error +/- 3.1 percent) showing that only 43 percent favored the law. Worse, a combined 73 percent favored overturning some provisions (43 percent) or overturning all the provisions (30 percent). Only 23 percent wanted the law to be kept as is.
There was even more detail and even worse news for the administration in a CBS News/New York Times survey (986 adults, M.O.E. +/-3.1 percent ) released on March 26. This poll found only 36 percent of Americans approved of the law and just 26 percent wanted to retain the law without change.
The reason for these respondents’ negativity became clear from their verdict of its effect on them. Only 19 percent thought it would help them personally. Only 15 percent thought it would decrease their health costs — 52 percent thought it would increase them. By 2 to 1, they thought it would reduce (33 percent), rather than increase (17 percent), the quality of health care they received.
This serious negativity has serious implications.
The administration’s health-care law was not popular before. That’s no surprise — not to Americans and not to the White House. There’s a reason why health care was not mentioned at all in this year’s State of the Union speech and why its two-year anniversary was virtually ignored by the White House.
The Supreme Court’s case only serves to raise the profile of something that the White House would apparently like to ignore. That profile will remain raised over the next three months as we wait and speculate on the Court’s decision. But that is nothing compared to what will happen when the Court finally rules.
There are many ways that the Court could rule; however, there are very limited options as to how the public will react.
If the Court upholds the law, does anyone believe that this will reverse the negative opiniond that Americans still hold after two years’ time? It is likely to only stoke the opposition’s negative opinion.
If the Court strikes it down entirely, some have said this could help the administration by eliminating the complaints of those who oppose it and raising the fervor of those who had supported it. In what other public issues have supporters been moved to quiescence by a favorable Court ruling? As for stoking the fervor of those who had supported it, those who should be the most disappointed are those who supported the law without changes — and both polls found that group only comprises about 1 in 4.
The only good political outcome for the administration would seem to be for the Court to overturn part of the law — say, the individual mandate — and hope this creates a composite coalition of those supporting some or all of the law. Pulling against your own signature accomplishment is hardly a pleasant place for the White House to be.
The administration appears to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. Actually, it is stuck between the Court of Public Opinion and the Supreme Court. It has already lost in the first and perhaps its best outcome would be to lose, at least in part, in the second as well. Failing that, the alternative might mean losing in November.
— J. T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.