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Morning Plum: Top pollster advises Dems to go on offense on Obamacare

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The GOP narrative for 2014 rests on the idea that Dem lawmakers and candidates are scurrying away from Obama and his signature domestic achievement. The goal: To create an atmosphere of panic and chaos around Obamacare, to discourage enrollment in hopes of making the law fail and to bait Dems into abandoning it, boosting its unpopularity and making it more of an albatross.

But now top Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg — having just done extensive polling in 86 competitive House districts — is advising Dems they should go on offense over the Affordable Care Act. The key finding: Even though voters in the battlegrounds have extreme doubts about the law, they still prefer implementing it to the GOP stance of repeal. And after a month of crushingly awful press for Obamacare, opinions on this matter in the battlegrounds have barely budged since October.

Dem pollster Stan Greenberg will roll out the new polling on a conference call with reporters later this morning. The poll — sponsored by Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund and Democracy Corps — was conducted in 50 GOP-held districts and 36 Dem-held districts from December 3-8, right after the administration announced its fix to the website. The key findings:

* Offered a straight choice between “implementing and fixing” the health law and “repealing and replacing” it, voters in these 86 districts prefer “implementing and fixing” by five points, 49-44. That’s only a slight difference from October, when implement and fix led by seven, 51-44.

* Implement and fix is preferred, even though the poll also finds widespread skepticism remains about seeing the law’s benefits. Only 33 percent of these battleground voters say the law will make things better for them, versus 46 percent who say it will make things harder, leaving a sizable chunk uncertain.

Greenberg tells me that all of this indicates that skepticism of the law does not necessarily translate into support for the GOP repeal stance — or GOP gains — and so Dems should not let that skepticism divide them.

“For sure, the rollout mess hurt the president and shifted the focus away from the hated Republican Congress,” he says. “But in the battlegrounds, the voters are split down the middle. This is not a wedge issue. Voters still want to implement and fix. Democrats can, and should, engage on health care.”

Indeed, the poll finds that significant majorities of core Democratic groups that are growing as a share of the electorate remain behind the law — another reason not to let Republicans use it as a wedge:

* Among members of the Rising American Electorate (unmarried women, young voters, and minorities) in the 86 battleground districts, “implement and fix” holds a 23-point lead over “repeal and replace,” 58-35. Also, these groups are significantly more convinced than voters overall that the law will make things better rather than make things harder: They believe this by 46-35.

“Despite all the noise over implementation, our polling shows that it remains popular among members of the Rising American Electorate,” says Page Gardner, president of the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund. “They realize that the law will improve their lives. These often economically vulnerable Americans make up nearly 54 percent of the voting age population, and politicians who ignore their issues do so at their peril.”

Later today, Greenberg will explain in more detail what all of this means for 2014. Stay tuned.

* HOUSE REPUBLICANS READY TO ACCEPT BUDGET COMPROMISE: With the vote coming today on the budget deal, the Post reports that House Republicans appear prepared to vote in large numbers for it, even if it replaces part of the sequester with increased spending levels funded by fees. Republican pollster Glen Bolger explains why this represents a big change:

“We are either a party that is serious about governing when control of Washington is split, or we are an unserious party that doesn’t care about realistic incremental gains, only about unrealistically getting the whole ball of wax, which will never happen as long as there is a Democratic president and a Democratic [Senate] majority leader.”

For months we were told that House GOP leaders would never dare do anything to anger the party’s conservative wing, and indeed, they shut down the government to postpone the inevitable need to stiff-arm the Tea Party. Now that the political incentives for the GOP favor a quiet resolution to budget differences, rather than another destructive shutdown, suddenly confronting the party’s right flank is not an impossibility, after all.

* WILL CONSERVATIVES FORGIVE PAUL RYAN FOR BUDGET DEAL? Jonathan Weisman has a useful overview of the outpouring of anger from conservatives that has hit Paul Ryan, now that he agreed to enter into a bipartisan budget deal that will allow spending levels to go up. Key point: The deal is likely to pass the House today, but with “significant defections” from Republicans.

And so even if many House Republicans will support the deal, Ryan and GOP leaders will likely still need a lot of House Democrats to pass it — which will only add more fuel to conservative rage.

* WHY REPUBLICANS AGREED TO THE BUDGET DEAL: Also in the above Times story, Newt Gingrich offers a candid answer to that question:

“Republicans made the calculation that they want to get to the election with no more fuss, focus on Obamacare and retake the Senate, so he produced a budget that raises spending and raises taxes. It’s as simple as that.”

Whoa. Republicans are so certain that Obamacare is destined to fail and win them back the Senate that they even agreed to raise taxes (or fees, anyway) to ensure that nothing gets in the way?

* 2016 GOP HOPEFULS SAVAGE RYAN BUDGET DEAL: National Journal reports that Republicans looking to run for president in 2016 are uniformly hammering Paul Ryan for his role in reaching a deal with Democrats. This is instructive:

Ryan — also a possible presidential candidate — now finds himself in the awkward position of trying to sell an agreement blessed by President Obama to a conservative base that reflexively opposes anything with a whiff of bipartisanship. It’s a spot [Marco] Rubio knows all too well: He doggedly pitched an immigration-reform bill earlier this year only to get hammered by tea-party activists and watch his poll numbers flop.

Rubio is still trying to make amends with the right for his own heretical participation in bipartisan problem solving. Ryan’s stature among conservatives may make things easier for him. We’ll see.

* BEHIND THE CONSERVATIVE STRATEGY ON THE DEAL: A very interesting suggestion from E.J. Dionne: The conservative screams of “sellout” about the budget deal are all about ensuring that the conversation over our long term fiscal priorities remains well over to the right.

If an incessant focus on deficits continues to dominate the debate, we will not take on what ought to be government’s central objectives now: how to move the country toward broadly shared economic growth and how to create opportunity for those lagging in the new economy. The right wing knows what it is doing. By screaming and yelling, it will paint what is, in fact, a fiscally cautious budget accord as a big spending monstrosity. The conservative ultras will thus push the public conversation (and the media coverage) almost entirely toward calls for more spending cuts and away from the question of what kind of economy and society our public policy shortfalls are promoting.

* INTERACTIVE CHART OF THE DAY, OBAMACARE EDITION: Talking Points Memo has a new and useful interactive map that enables you to check out how Obamacare enrollment is going, state by state, and also to see how much enrollment in each state is in private plans and how much is due to the Medicaid expansion. What’s immediately striking is the disparity from state to state, which very well be a big story about Obamacare going forward. Definitely bookmark this chart.

* AND BIG OBAMACARE DISPARITIES FROM STATE TO STATE: Related to the above: The Associated Press takes a look at the state-to-state disparities that are taking shape under Obamacare, and reaches this startling conclusion:

The rate of residents gaining health coverage [overall] was more than three times as great in the states embracing the federal health care law than in those whose leaders have resisted it. In the dozen states embracing the overhaul, more than 50 percent of those who applied for coverage picked an insurance plan or were eligible for Medicaid. That rate was barely 15 percent in the two dozen states that aren’t cooperating in the implementation of the federal health care law.

As the piece notes, this is happening in spite of the fact that “many conservative states have higher levels of poverty and more people without health coverage.” This disparity could accelerate, but it’s still possible more GOP governors will opt in to the expansion on their own terms.

What else?