November 19, 2013

With Republican attacks on Obamacare’s awful rollout intensifying, two new polls out this morning illustrate just how much pressure Democrats will feel in coming days to seriously distance themselves from the law. But the polls also illustrate, paradoxically, why they shouldn’t, and almost certainly won’t.

The crux of the polls’ findings: Disapproval of the law and the president is soaring — but key elements of the Democratic coalition still think it can be made to work, and overwhelmingly oppose repeal.

The new Washington Post/ABC News poll is brutal to Obama and his signature domestic achievement. Sixty-three percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of it. Only 40 percent support the law, versus 57 percent who oppose it. Only 34 percent support the individual mandate, and 71 percent support delaying it. The administration’s rollout of the law was an epic, unforgiveable failure, so it’s not surprising public disapproval is skyrocketing. That’s as it should be.

However — and this is key — the public remains divided, at 49-49, on whether the government can ultimately get the law working or whether it is unworkable.

Crucially, majorities of the core Dem constituencies think it can still be made to work:  69 percent of non-whites; 56 percent of young voters; 59 percent of moderates; 51 percent of women; and 52 percent of college graduates (college educated whites, especially women, are an increasingly important part of the new Dem coalition) all think the law can recover.

This pattern is mirrored in a new National Journal poll. It finds a slim majority of 52 percent thinks the law will do more to hurt the health system than to help it. But it also finds that only a small minority, 38 percent, support repealing the law. Majorities of all the core Democratic groups — minorities, young voters, and college educated whites — still support the law, and tilt overwhelmingly against repeal. Only two groups support repeal: Republicans, and non-college whites.

As Ron Brownstein notes: “Congressional Democrats inclined to distance themselves from the law in the hope of placating skeptical independent or Republican-leaning voters face the risk of alienating some of their core supporters.”

At a moment of unrelentingly awful press for the law, a basic dynamic that has been in place for years, one that many commentators simply refuse to acknowledge, is still holding: Majorities disapprove of Obamacare, but disapproval does not translate into majority support for scrapping or eliminating it entirely — particularly among core Dem constituencies.

There is no minimizing the challenge the White House faces. High disapproval may make Congressional Dems more skittish, and there is intense pressure on the White House to show public impressions can be changed, by making the law work over time. Whether the administration can or will do this remains unknown. As Brian Beutler spells out, things may get still worse, making it excruciatingly difficult for Dems to weather the political downturn. But if Dems hang in there, the end result could be massively expanded coverage by the time Obama leaves office. The alternative — abandoning the law — is tantamount to telling voters to give up on the Democratic Party. Core Dem constituencies are not giving up on the law, and neither should Congressional Dems.

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* OBAMACARE ENROLLMENT ON TRACK IN SOME STATES: Related to the above, some important reporting from the Los Angeles Times:

Despite the disastrous rollout of the federal government’s healthcare website, enrollment is surging in many states as tens of thousands of consumers sign up for insurance plans made available by President Obama‘s health law. A number of states that use their own systems, including California, are on track to hit enrollment targets for 2014 because of a sharp increase in November, according to state officials.

Conclusion: “serious problems with the law’s rollout may not be fatal, despite critics’ renewed calls for repeal.”

Also, Brownstein asks a good question: “if blue states are signing up significant numbers on exchanges, politically can that coverage be revoked?”

A related question: Will higher enrollment in states make core Dem groups even more supportive of the law, and will that make it harder for any Dems to embrace repeal?

* OBAMA SLIPPING ON PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES: One other key finding in the Post/ABC poll: The President has slipped below majorities on whether he’s a strong leader; whether he understands people’s problems; and whether he’s honest and trustworthy.

Obviously Obama is not running for reelection, but such slippage risks making Dems up in 2014 even more eager to distance themselves from the President. When it comes to Obamacare, let’s remember that this isn’t about the president; it’s about the policy.

* DEMS GIVE WHITE HOUSE DEADLINE ON HEALTH LAW: The Hill reports that Democratic aides are warning that if the White House doesn’t get the website fixed by November 30th, Congressional Dems will take matters into their own hands:

If the president’s team fails to deliver, Democrats will embrace legislation extending the law’s enrollment period or forcing insurance companies to continue offering plans that do not meet ObamaCare’s standards, according to Democratic aides.

Hmmm, maybe. Still, the one to really watch for will be any legislative delay in the individual mandate. As Jonathan Bernstein outlined yesterday, the incentives run against Dems supporting anything that meaningfully undermines the law.

* GOP PLACES ALL ITS CHIPS ON OBAMACARE: National Journal has an interesting look at how Republicans no longer feel as much pressure to reach a budget deal — which could lead to another fight over short term funding of the government – because the focus is now on Obamacare’s rollout problems. Indeed, a spokesperson for Paul Ryan was asked whether Republicans feel any pressure to get something done because of the damage the GOP sustained in the shutdown fight, and replied bluntly: “Nah.”

As noted here yesterday, the Obamacare rollout fiasco seems to be making Republicans less inclined to deal with not just the budget, but immigration reform, too.

* GOP HAS NO POLICY AGENDA: Related to the above: The New York Times has a good editorial explaining that GOP glee over the awful health law rollout, which did display terrible administration “incompetence,” is leading Republicans to postpone the need to engage in actual governing:

What is the Republican alternative to this government program, flawed as it is right now? There is none. Party members simply want to repeal the health law and let insurers go back to canceling policies at the first sign of a shadow on an X-ray. They have no immigration policy of their own. They have no plan that will stimulate job growth. They are in favor only of shutdowns and sequesters and repeals, giving the public no reason to believe they have a governing vision or even a legislative agenda. Over time, that will prove to be a far more serious failure than momentary incompetence. Democrats may be stumbling right now, but at least they are trying.

This is the basic reason why Dems believe a “keep and fix” message may still carry the day over the long term, on the theory that voters will understand which party is trying to solve problems and which isn’t.

* POLL FINDS LITTLE MOVEMENT ON OBAMACARE: Meanwhile, a Reuters/Ipsos poll finds: that disapproval of the law is running high, but has not changed much since before the rollout. Also:

Republicans have vowed to try to repeal the law, but the poll showed they could face some obstacles because some elements of the law, such as requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions, remain popular…Forty-one percent of those polled said they found the problems “unacceptable” and that they were an example of why the healthcare law never should have been passed.

In this poll, as in so many others, the GOP position appears to be a minority one.

* DEMS TO PRESS FOR CURBS ON NSA SYPING: It’s good to see, as the New York Times reports, that Congressional Democrats are renewing the push for limits on NSA spying and more disclosure and transparency around the programs. Notably, Democratic leaders — allied with GOP leaders — are moving to block legislative changes, in keeping with what the White House wants.

It will be interesting to see whether NSA spying will become another issue in the ongoing intra-Dem argument over what the Democratic Party should become, heading into 2014 and 2016.

* AND DEMS MUST FORCE “NUCLEAR” CONFRONTATION: So concludes Steve Benen, after taking stock of the latest GOP filibuster of Obama’s third nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals:

Let’s make this plain: if Senate Democrats don’t force a confrontation over this, they will, for the first time in the institution’s history, have allowed a minority of the Senate to hijack the judicial nominating process without cause.

What else?

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