The silver lining for Democrats on Obamacare

December 18, 2013

The myriad problems with the rollout of HealthCare.gov and the Obamacare exchanges have pushed President Obama's approval ratings to a new low and, to hear many tell it, might give Republicans a leg up in the 2014 election.

But tucked into the new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday is a cautionary tale for the GOP.

It is this: Despite the country's opposition to the Affordable Care Act and Obama's leadership on it, it doesn't want to turn the reins over to Republicans.


People gather for information during an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles. (Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)

The poll shows just 34 percent of Americans approve of Obama's implementation of the health-care law, while 62 percent disapprove -- including 50 percent who say they "strongly" disapprove. Pretty bad, right?

But when you ask people whether they would rather see Obama or the GOP in charge of that implementation, 42 percent pick Obama, while 37 percent pick Republicans. That's actually the biggest advantage Obama has had on that question since 2010 -- marginally bigger than the narrow three-point difference for Obama in September, before the botched rollout.

The gap between the percentage of people who approve of Obama's implementation efforts so far (34 percent) and those who want him to continue being in charge of its implementation (42 percent) is striking.

Especially when you compare it to another issue -- the economy.

On that issue, Obama's approval rating is significantly higher than it is on Obamacare -- 42 percent. Despite this, when people are asked whether they would like to see Obama or Republicans in charge of the economy, Republicans lead 45-41.

So, to sum it all up, on arguably Obama's worst issue, he leads Republicans by five points. On one of his best, he trails by four.

Up is down. Black is white. The Minnesota Vikings won the Super Bowl.



In actuality, there are a couple things at work here.

One is that Republicans generally have an advantage on the economy, while Democrats generally have an advantage on issues like health care. When the political environment is relatively neutral, you will see the GOP have a slight advantage on the economy and taxes, and you'll see Democrats lead on issues like health care care and education. It's just the way things generally are.

But health care is not really supposed to be a neutral issue right now. It's supposed to be the GOP's Golden Goose.

The numbers above suggest one or both of the following: 1) That the GOP's Defund Obamacare effort and the government shutdown that ensued continue to give Americans pause and/or 2) That Republicans have failed to show a competing vision on the issue of health-care reform, instead focusing solely on repealing Obama's law.

Polling has long shown that most Americans prefer fixing Obamacare to repealing it entirely. Democrats have highlighted that number and suggested repeal-first Republicans might be vulnerable if Democrats play some offense on the issue.

We think that goes a bit too far; just because Americans prefer fixing the law to repealing it doesn't mean they would necessarily vote against someone who wants to repeal it -- especially given how unpopular the law has been in most recent polls (it's at 46 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove in the WaPo-ABC poll).

But we do think the GOP's laser-like focus on repeal -- and things like the shutdown that resulted from it -- have mitigated the advantage that they otherwise might have on this issue. The fact that Republicans trail on an issue on which Obama's approval rating is 34 percent speaks volumes and suggests the GOP message on that issue, at the very least, isn't resonating.

(An alternative theory is that some people won't say they want Republicans in charge of implementation because they don't want the law implemented at all. This still wouldn't account, though, for the eight-point gap between Obama's approval on implementation and the percentage of people who want him to stay in charge.)

None of this is to say that Republicans have a better political option -- be it proposing an alternative or moving to fix Obamacare. These two options risk making their alternative the issue and legitimizing Obamacare, respectively.

But it's also clear that Republicans haven't gotten nearly the advantage on this issue that you might think they have.

Fixbits:

In a clear snub to the Russian government, Obama and Vice President Biden will skip the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) wants to head the Ways and Means Committee in 2015.

Reps. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) on Tuesday each announced plans to retire.

Former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene will take over for Jeffrey Zients.

Alabama Republican Bradley Byrne will become the newest member of Congress.

Scott Brown (R) will register to vote in New Hampshire.

The FEC closed an investigation of Crossroads GPS.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) won't rule out a 2016 White House bid.

Must-reads:

"Feeling besieged, tea party groups prepare for policy battles" -- Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post

"Latham retirement opens Iowa’s most competitive seat" -- Kathie Obradovich, Des Moines Register

"Tech executives to Obama: NSA spying revelations are hurting business" -- Cecilia Kang and Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post

"The Reboot" -- Glenn Thrush, Politico

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Chris Cillizza · December 17, 2013