Politics & Policy

The Obamacare Infection

The public now questions his credibility after the president's broken promises on Obamacare.

After winning a narrow but clear reelection, the president enjoys majority job approval in the immediate aftermath of his victory — 53 to 44 percent in Gallup data. But his presidency divides the country, and approval and disapproval battle back and forth for supremacy during much of his fifth year in office.

Then an event occurs that calls into question the president’s competence and ability to handle the enormous powers of the presidency effectively. Confidence is shaken. Disapproval of his job performance gains the upper hand, with a clear majority now dissatisfied. Once the approval and disapproval lines cross, the trust he enjoyed up to that point is undermined, and he never again wins majority approval of his job performance.

That president is George W. Bush, and the event is Hurricane Katrina. But the parallels with the current occupant of the Oval Office are downright eerie.

After his reelection, Barack Obama’s job approval in mid-November 2012 stood at 53 to 42 percent, according to Gallup, and he sustained majority approval until March 2013. He then began a seven-month period when approval and disapproval battled back and forth, with approval occasionally passing the 50 percent threshold but never staying there for long.

Then on October 1, Obamacare launched. Or didn’t. After the government shutdown ended, the stunning incompetence of Healthcare.gov came to dominate the news. Those desperately trying to enroll in new health-insurance plans were stymied at every turn. Frustration grew. Enrollment reached barely a tenth of what was required to sustain the economic assumptions of the new law. Confidence in the president’s ability to handle technology — so extolled during his reelection campaign — came crashing down.

And so did his job approval. The last week in September, Gallup showed 47 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval. Gallup numbers from the second week in November show his approval down to 40 percent, with a clear majority, 54 percent, disapproving.

And it keeps getting worse.

Our polling has shown that the overwhelming majority of Americans simply did not believe most of the president’s promises about Obamacare. In March 2012, substantial majorities said that key claims he made about the law were false. For his claim that “the plan will not add one dime to the federal-budget deficit,” that figure is 71 percent; for “the plan will lower premiums for the average family by $2500 per year,” 67 percent;  for “the plan will lower costs for individuals, businesses, and the federal government,” 64 percent.

The one promise they did believe? “If you like your current health plan, you will be able to keep it.” By a margin of 64 to 27 percent, Americans said that promise was true. And now they are discovering that to be false as well.

That broken promise extends the president’s problems beyond competence to credibility. A president’s credibility is a precious and non-renewable resource. Once it is called into question, job-approval ratings become exceedingly difficult to reverse. It wasn’t possible for Lyndon Johnson after Vietnam. Nor for Richard Nixon after Watergate. And it will be exceedingly difficult for Barack Obama after Obamacare.

Fixing the website problems will not fix Obamacare. The myriad problems identified by Republicans throughout the congressional debate are becoming obvious as the law is implemented. Policies are being canceled. Requirements to buy comprehensive policies that people do not want or need are causing premiums to skyrocket. Healthy young people are not signing up.

Obamacare has infected this presidency. It will continue to weigh on the president’s job-approval ratings for the rest of his term in office.

— Whit Ayres is founder and president of North Star Opinion Research.



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