The political fight on health care is over. Republicans won.
While official Washington waits with bated breath for the Supreme Court to announce its decision on the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law, a new study from the Pew Research Center makes it abundantly clear that the political fight over health care is already over. And Republicans won.
Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism monitored the media coverage on health care from June 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010 — the heart of the legislative fight over the law — and found several very interesting things.
First, the media coverage focused heavily on the politics and the strategy of the legislation as opposed to the guts of the actual proposed law. Roughly 40 percent of the media coverage during that period focused on “politics and strategy” while just 23 percent zeroed in on describing the substance of the plan.
(Cue media criticism. It’s a fair discussion but not relevant to whether or not the political fight over health care can now be won by Democrats.)
Here’s a chart of how all of the health care coverage during that period broke down:
That focus on the politics and strategy clearly benefited Republicans since much of the story during the health care fight was of a Democratic party divided between its liberal base, who wanted a broader bill, and its more pragmatic center that preferred a bill that could be passed.
Pew went deeper — examining the number of media mentions for the three most common concepts pushed by proponents and opponents of the law.
Two terms favored by those unfavorably inclined to the law — “more government involvement” and “more taxes with health care reform” — both outpaced the most mentioned term of supporters (“more competition”).
In fact, there were more than twice as many mentions of “more government involvement” than of “insuring pre-existing conditions”, which has long been one of the Obama Administration’s signature talking points in support of the law.
“Opponents of the reform won the so-called ‘messaging war’ in the coverage,” according to a Pew memo analyzing the results.
The White House and its allies have long maintained that as the law began to be implemented those people who were convinced it was a bad thing by Republicans would come around to support it.
But, a look back at Washington Post-ABC News polling gauging support/opposition for the law suggests that a) opposition outruns support and b) external events have no impact on moving the numbers.
Check out this great table put together for us by our friends in the Post polling unit :
Is technically possible that an affirmation of the constitutionality of the health care law by Supreme Court could re-shape what appears to be a settled political debate in the minds of most Americans? Sure.
But it’s far from likely. Peoples’ mind were made up by the way the legislative fight was covered in 2009 and 2010. And given the consistency of these numbers over time, a large-scale change in how the law is viewed based on a Supreme Court ruling seems far-fetched.