September 16, 2013

I noted earlier today that the new Pew poll finds that fewer than one in four Americans want GOP lawmakers to keep working to ensure that Obamacare fails. This is confirmation, again, that dissatisfaction with the law does not necessarily translate into public support for efforts to sabotage it.

But who are these make-Obamacare-fail dead-enders, anyway?

I asked Pew for a fuller breakdown of the numbers, and the firm sent me new data that illustrates just how extreme a position this really is. However, the data also illustrates in a new way why GOP officials feel under such pressure to continue trying to undermine the law — it all has to do with who votes in GOP primaries.

There are several ways to look at the data, according to Michael Dimock, who is Pew’s director of U.S. polling.

1) Republicans are far, far more likely to want lawmakers to fight to ensure Obamacare fails than independents are. To begin with, even Republicans are split on this topic. But still, 43 percent of Republicans are in the “make it fail” camp.

By contrast, only 23 percent of independents are in the “make it fail” category. Among independents overall, 36 percent support the law, while 58 percent oppose it (yes, Obamacare polls very badly). That 58 in opposition, though, breaks down into 32 percent who want lawmakers to make the law work versus the 23 percent who are advocating for failure. (Discrepancies in totals are the result of “don’t know” respondents.)

What that means is that a total of 68 percent of independents either supports the law or opposes it but wants lawmakers to make it work. By contrast, fewer than one quarter of them align roughly with the position of conservatives (and to a lesser degree with the GOP leadership position, which is essentially a posture that favors undermining the law rather than making it work).

What’s more, a lot of these independent voters who want the law to fail, Dimock says, are Republican aligned Tea Party types who no longer self-identify as Republicans because the party has disappointed them. The independent group rooting for failure “scoops up a fair number of pretty strong ideologues,” Dimock explains.

2) Meanwhile, the Pew poll finds that sentiment in favor of the law failing is largely driven by Tea Party Republicans. But it turns out this group has disproportionate influence, because the percentage who want the law to fail is far higher among definite primary voters.

Among Republicans who say they “always” vote in primaries, 53 percent oppose the law and want lawmakers to make it fail. Among Republicans who do not “always” vote in primaries, only 38 percent express that view, Dimock says.

And there you have it. The “make Obamacare fail” position is a minority preoccupation that is driven largely by Tea Party Republicans and has very little support even among independents — including fewer than half of those independents who oppose the law. Yet it’s exerting an enormous influence over the GOP’s posture heading into this fall’s fiscal fights, and by contrast, over our political situation in general and potentially over the fate of the economy. In case you wondered why the situation is so lopsided and unbalanced, the above goes some way towards explaining it.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.