Why have Republicans voted 30 times to repeal Obamacare? To increase uncertainty.

July 9, 2012

(J. Scott Applewhite | Associated Press)

Since the start of this Congress, Republicans have taken 30 votes to repeal, defund or dismantle the Affordable Care Act. When they vote to repeal the health law later this week that will make 31. House Republicans will then have had as many health-repeal votes as Baskin Robbins has ice cream flavors.

As we've seen 30 times before, the health-care-repeal votes aren't going anywhere. Repeal bills passed in the House are dead-on-arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate. So why do they keep going?

To start, there's a lot of support in the Republican base for a repeal. Kaiser Family Foundation asked voters, shortly after the Supreme Court decision, whether they wanted legislators to continue blocking the health law — or move on and implement it.

Overall, 65 percent sided with the latter option. But dig deeper into the numbers, and you'll find widespread support among Republicans to continue blocking the law. There's significant support among Independents to keep fighting, too:

The political support for repeal, among Republican, remains strong in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

That's the politics of repeal. But there's a psychological element at play here too: Making the Affordable Care Act's future seem uncertain gives Republicans a greater chance of getting voters energized about the issue, especially the health law's individual mandate.

Psychologists have found that people tend to react to new restrictions on their liberties in two ways. They can resist the law and fight back with everything they have. Or, they can rationalize it and think up ways that it isn't actually so bad.

The key variable, in determining whether people will resist or rationalize, turns out to be uncertainty. In one study, when a new regulation was made to seem absolutely certain to come into place, subjects "viewed [it] more favorably, and valued the restricted freedoms less." But when there was even a slight chance that the restriction may disappear, views immediately flipped negative.

That psychological research might give Republicans a reason to continue on with repeal efforts: They create headlines about Obamacare's repeal, and make the future seem less certain. That stirs up resistance to the Affordable Care Act — which could come in handy with an election looming six months in the future.

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Dylan Matthews | July 9, 2012