The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Americans know there’s no GOP ‘alternative’ to Obamacare

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Obamacare is a disaster for Democrats, and a certain winner for Republicans. That’s what we keep hearing, anyway.

So why does it look as if the percentage of Americans who favor repeal may have actually shrunk since its rollout problems began?

That’s what the February tracking poll for the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests. To be sure, the new poll finds that opinion of the law is more negative than positive: 47 percent of Americans view the law unfavorably, while 35 percent view it favorably (though opinions have improved a bit since October).

But unfavorable views have not translated into support for the GOP position of repeal; indeed the repeal position may have lost ground since the October rollout problems, while a clear majority favors keeping and improving the law. Here’s the key Kaiser chart:

The poll shows that 48 percent want to keep and improve the law, and another eight percent want to keep it as is — for a total of 56 percent who want to keep it. (50 percent of independents want to keep and fix.)

Meanwhile, 19 percent want to repeal the law and not replace it, while 12 percent want to repeal and replace with a GOP alternative — totaling 31 percent.

Back in October Kaiser found that 37 percent want repeal/replace or just repeal, versus 47 percent who want to keep/expand it. There was a temporary spike for repeal in December, at the height of the problems; now it appears to be back down to below where it was.

In fairness, the wording is not directly parallel. The new poll offers respondents the option of keep and improve, while the October poll offered folks keep or expand. But this underscores the point: When people are offered keep and improve — the Dem stance — support for keeping the law grows.

Meanwhile, note that only 12 percent support repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a GOP alternative. There’s been a lot of chatter about the ever-imminent GOP alternative lately, but there are reasons this alternative hasn’t been forthcoming. Jonathan Chait explains that there is no alternative solution that would be acceptable to conservatives while also remaining politically defensible to the broader electorate. And Jonathan Cohn explains that Republicans won’t embrace any alternative solution because it would require making tradeoffs like the ones in Obamacare — which Republicans aren’t prepared to do.

I suspect the American mainstream doesn’t believe there is any real GOP alternative to Obamacare and understands that despite its flaws, the Affordable Care Act is the only set of solutions we’re going to get (with single payer being a political impossibility). This might explain why such a small number supports repeal-and-replace with a generic GOP alternative, and why majorities oppose repeal despite viewing the law unfavorably; the alternative, people know, is going back to the old system.

This doesn’t mean Dems in red states aren’t weighed down by the law. Sure they are. But the politics of Obamacare are complex. In North Carolina, journalists are noticing that the likely GOP Senate candidate knows his repeal stance is untenable but is unable to embrace an alternative, even as Dem Senator Kay Hagan blasts Republicans for opposing the Medicaid expansion there. In Kentucky, Bill Clinton is blasting the GOP repeal stance and Alison Lundergan Grimes is pointing out that hundreds of thousands are benefiting from the law. In Louisiana Mary Landrieu will make an issue over the expansion being debated there this spring.

Perhaps none of these moves by Dems will outweigh the unpopularity of the law in these states. At the same time, though, national opinion is clear: after all the rollout troubles, and despite a massive national GOP campaign of sabotage and distortion, repeal remains unpopular; only a small minority wants to go back to the old system; and a smaller minority still thinks the GOP has any alternative.