Even as the leading GOP presidential candidates continue to pledge to obliterate Obamacare, and even as Congressional Republicans continue to promise an alternative to the law that may never, ever materialize, Gallup finds that the uninsured rate has plummeted yet again, to six points below where it was when Obamacare first took effect:
Crucially, two of the groups who have experienced the largest drop in the uninsured rate are blacks and Hispanics:
Among blacks, the uninsured rate has dropped 9.5 percentage points, and among Hispanics, it has dropped 10.4 points. So here’s a question: Could this be playing some kind of role in the argument between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders over the future of Obamacare — and, by extension, in the broader argument between Clinton and Sanders over how successful the Obama years have been, and what should come next?
The question of how to achieve universal health care has been central to that broader argument. Sanders tweeted today that Obamacare has fallen well short of what needs to be accomplished:
29 million Americans have no health insurance and even more are underinsured with high co-payments and deductibles. That's an embarrassment.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 7, 2016
Sanders says that Obamacare (which he voted for) is a real achievement, but that we need to do better, arguing that we should transition to single payer in order to achieve the security of true universal health care and avoid the problems that continue to plague the current system. Clinton has agreed that we need to get to universal health care, but says the system can’t withstand another epic war that would uproot our health care system right now, and that building incrementally on Obamacare is the way to move towards universal coverage (though she’s been vague on how she’d accomplish that).
Clinton has tended to perform better — sometimes a lot better — among African Americans than Sanders has, and she’s also won Latinos in states like Texas and Florida (though Sanders has proven surprisingly competitive elsewhere among them). Nonwhites could play a key role in upcoming primaries in places like New York and California. Polls have also shown that large percentages of nonwhites think Clinton, not Sanders, is the candidate who would best bring “needed change” to Washington, suggesting the possibility that nonwhites are more in sync with Clinton’s vision of incremental change than with Sanders’s more revolutionary promises.
As it happens, nonwhites, and particularly African Americans, are not as keen on universal health care as are Democrats overall. A recent CBS News poll found that Democrats favor a single payer system by 62-29. But the CBS polling team tells me that African Americans favor it only by 48-39 (Latinos are higher at 59-34).
Brett Gadsden, a historian of African American studies at Emory, recently told Jonathan Chait that African Americans have a very long history of electoral pessimism and pragmatism that leads them to be more open to candidates who promise incremental change via compromise or via an acknowledgement that progress will have to be ground out in the face of unrelenting opposition:
“Black voters have always [been] faced with the difficult choice between candidates who have only offered incremental support for their concerns and have been perfectly willing to turn their backs, albeit to slightly different degrees, on black communities when it was politically expedient.”
Given the success of Obamacare in lowering the uninsured among African Americans in particular — and given Clinton’s scaled down vow to build upon it, as opposed to Sanders’s call for replacing it with a new single payer system — you have to wonder whether this is playing some kind of role in the larger argument currently unfolding between the two candidates.