The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Even in Romney states, more want to keep Obamacare than repeal it

The new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that even in the states carried by Mitt Romney, there is slightly more support for keeping Obamacare than repealing it.

No, this doesn’t mean the health law is a winner for Dems or that approval of it is rising. But it does suggest reasons for optimism about the law’s long-term prospects.

The poll’s topline shows that a total of 57 percent of voters support Obamacare (43 percent) or don’t support it but want to let it go ahead and see how it works (just under 15 percent). Meanwhile, only 39 percent want to repeal the law. That’s 57-39 for keeping versus repealing the law.

It turns out there isn’t even a substantial difference on this question when you compare voters in blue and red states — even though, broadly speaking, more of the latter are getting bombarded by anti-Obamacare ads and messaging. The crack Post polling team put together the following chart (run your cursor over the bars for the numbers):

The chart shows that even in the states carried by Mitt Romney, slightly more favor keeping the law than repealing it, by 51-47. (That 51 percent breaks down into 39 percent who support the law plus 11 percent who don’t support it but want to keep it).

Meanwhile, in the states carried by Barack Obama, more favor keeping the law than repealing it, by 61-35. (That 61 percent breaks down into 45 percent who support the law plus a little less than 17 percent who don’t support it but want to keep it). The differences here just aren’t all that pronounced: In both Romney and Obama states, more favor keeping the law than getting rid of it, and the level of approval for it isn’t all that different.

All of this is broadly consistent with a number of things about public opinion on the ACA. Opinion is basically polarized on it. Disapproval is high but the GOP repeal stance has never gotten broad public support either. And for all of the millions of dollars being dumped into ads against the law, there isn’t a lot of evidence they are moving opinion much — if anything opinion has been locked in for years.

Today’s Kaiser Family Foundation poll also support this view. It finds that even if disapproval remains high, significantly more want to work to improve the law than repeal it, by 63-33. More to the point, according to Kaiser data sent my way, the split on that question is almost exactly the same in states with competitive Senate races (58-38) as it is in states without competitive races (62-35). This, even though Kaiser also finds that significantly more people in contested states report seeing ads about Obamacare, and that the spending is lopsidedly tilted against the law.

It’s become a cliche to point out that Republicans have lost the argument over repeal, and in truth, it’s hard to know how much this even matters in the battle for Senate control, which is about the map and generalized disapproval of Obama. My working thesis has long been that both the law and the GOP repeal stance can simultaneously be unpopular because Americans know there is no GOP replacement plan. Indeed, all of this does help explain why multiple Republican Senate candidates are now reduced largely to campaigning on repeal of the word “Obamacare” while professing support for the ACA’s general goals and fudging on whether they would take its actual benefits away from people. Meanwhile, Republicans are also facing tough questions about their actual intentions towards the law and GOP governors even in conservative states are beginning to crack under pressure to take up the Medicaid expansion.

This is significant because it means that even if Republicans have won the argument over the word “Obamacare,” they have not won the argument over the policy, and this has long term ramifications. As Peter Suderman recently explained:

Root and branch repeal is starting to look more like twig and leaf….There has been a sort of settling of opinion on Obamacare in recent months; it’s clear that it’s unpopular, and that the repeated attempts to message into success aren’t working. But with the follies of open enrollment behind us, and the most obvious website problems mitigated, it’s also less of a priority than it once was…The result is a convergence of sorts, and also a kind of wary standoff, in which both parties are grappling with the fact that Obamacare is unpopular, but also that millions of people are now receiving its benefits.

Or, as Jonathan Bernstein put it: “Public opinion, including the quite real and probably permanent unpopularity of ‘Obamacare,’ isn’t going to lead to repeal. That remains as dead as it has been for years.”