The Obamacare albatross for congressional Democrats

November 19, 2013

Never before has President Obama's signature health-care law been so politically toxic for congressional candidates, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows.


President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks at the ArcelorMittal Cleveland steel plant, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, in Cleveland. From Ohio the president will travel to Philadelphia to raise campaign money benefiting the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Nearly four in 10 voters (39 percent) say they would be more likely to oppose a candidate for Congress who supports the law. Just under a quarter (23 percent) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who backs the law, according to the survey. Thirty-six percent of voters say a candidate's position on Obamacare would not make a difference in their vote.

The support/oppose gap is much wider than it's ever been in Post-ABC polling, including four months before the 2010 midterm elections in which Republicans made historic gains. In that July 2010 poll, voters split, with 39 percent saying they would be more likely to support a candidate who backed health-care reform and 37 percent saying they were more likely to oppose. In July 2012, the support/oppose split was an even 28 percent among voters.

The poll also comes as overall views of the law and the president's handling of its rollout have cratered. Fifty-seven percent of Americans oppose the law, compared to just 40 percent who support it. And more than six in 10 Americans (63 percent) say they disapprove of the way Obama has handled the law's implementation, nearly double the 33 percent who say they approve.

In a clear picture of the political perils of being associated with the law amid a rollout plagued by technical glitches and unfulfilled promises, 39 House Democrats broke party ranks last week to vote for a GOP-backed bill to alter the law, representing the largest Democratic defection this year on a major piece of legislation. The defectors were mostly members expected to face tough reelection battles. Two Senate contenders running in swing states -- Reps. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) -- also voted for the legislation.

Democrats on Capitol Hill also continued to push bills from Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Udall (Colo.) to allow Americans facing cancellations to stay on their health-insurance plans, even after Obama announced his own fix last week.

In addition to using the law to go after Democrats, there's another reason that Republicans are expected to harden their criticism of Obamacare: GOP primaries, where there will be little appetite for anything less than robust opposition to Obamacare.

Seventy-one percent of Republican voters say they are more likely to oppose a candidate if that candidate supports the law, the highest level in Post-ABC polls. Intensity runs high for GOP voters, with 56 percent who would be much more likely to oppose the candidate. Just 8 percent of Republican voters say they would be more likely to support a candidate if that candidate supports the law.

In short, unless these numbers turn around, there is little reason to believe that Democrats won't continue to distance themselves from the law where possible and that Republicans won't keep up their steady drumbeat of criticism.

The good news for Democrats is that it is November of 2013. There is still about a year until the 2014 midterms. But it's growing increasingly clear that if the political picture with regard to Obamacare looks in the fall of 2014 like it does now, it could be a very long winter for Democrats heading into 2015.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · November 19, 2013