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Here’s why Obamacare is still a major problem for Democrats

Buried in new New York Times/Kaiser polling on four Southern Senate races is this question: "Is it possible you would ever vote for a candidate who does not share your views on the 2010 health care law, or is this issue so important that you would not vote for a candidate who disagrees with you?"

US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius smiles as she waits for President Barack Obama to speak about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on April 1, 2014. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

And here's how people answered that question in North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and Kentucky.

Image courtesy of The Upshot
Image courtesy of The Upshot

Now, keep in mind that in all four of these states people also said they would prefer their elected representatives to work on finding ways to fix the health care law rather than working to repeal it and replace it. And the four polls also show Democrats ahead of or statistically tied with their potential Republican challengers. So, these polls are not "skewed" toward Republicans.

But, what the question above shows is the enthusiasm problem that Democrats have when it comes to Obamacare.  Republicans HATE the law. Democrats like it.  That's why, in Louisiana, almost six in ten registered voters said that they would not vote for a candidate who did not share their views on the law. While some of that number is surely Democrats who wouldn't vote for a candidate who was against Obamacare, all of the other data out there about the law suggests that the energy on the issue is with the folks adamantly opposed to it.

Given that, the gap between those saying they wouldn't vote for a candidate who disagreed with them on the Affordable Care Act and those who said they would is another way to gauge intensity around the law. And while the 30-point gap between "wouldn't vote" and "would" is widest in Louisiana, it's still quite large in North Carolina (18 points) and Arkansas (17 points). In Kentucky, where the state-run insurance exchange is working as well as any in the country, there appears to be less political heat around the law, with those who wouldn't vote for a candidate who shared their  view on the ACA running only seven points ahead of those who said they could vote for a candidate who disagreed with their view.

Too many people assume that the key to understanding the politics of the healthcare law is the overall approval/disapproval of the ACA or even the number of enrollments. In truth, as it relates to the coming midterm election, the critical piece of data is how intensely Republicans oppose the law versus how passionately Democrats support it. As of today, there's still a gap there. And that should worry Democrats -- no matter how good their polls look right now.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.



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Katie Zezima · April 24, 2014

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