Now that the Court has acted, the 2012 election cycle will be the biggest factor determining the fate of health-care reform. Not just the presidential election: The House is still in play, if not likely to go Democratic (and it certainly won’t if Romney wins), while every vote in the Senate can make a difference. People may think that all that matters is who has the majority, but that’s simply not true; there are things that a 55-45 Senate will do that a 51-49 won’t.
And yet . . . this election will not be fought over health care. Oh, it’s an issue, as it always is, but with 8 percent unemployment, it’s not going to be what swing voters are hearing about. And don’t forget — those swing voters weren’t the ones keeping a tab open on SCOTUSblog this morning; they may see a headline, but they aren’t paying much attention to any of this even when it’s dominating the news. And by next week, and then August, and then October, the Affordable Care Act isn’t going to be dominating the news anymore, and most swing voters will barely be aware that there is a health-care reform law.
Or, you’ll read that this decision will invigorate liberal activists because they won or conservative activists because they lost. Ignore that. Could it conceivably be true? I suppose, but no one knows, and, more to the point, if there’s one thing that political parties are incredibly good at, it’s getting their activists excited when a close election is coming. So any effect here is going to be marginal at best.
This is, to be sure, one of the complications (or perhaps paradoxes) of democracy: We have elections that are terribly important to policy outcomes, which in turn are terribly important in people’s lives. But those elections are decided almost completely by things that have nothing to do with most of those issues. It’s surprising, really, that more people don’t think about that and abandon their support for democracy altogether. Now, they would be wrong to do. In part, that’s because political parties and their politicians are so eager to win office that they often try to figure out and then do what voters want even if outside observers can notice that elections don’t really turn on those things. In part, it’s because organized groups and individual activists can work for what they want not only in elections, but also by pressuring their parties to do what they want. And that, you can be sure, is happening, and it matters.
But as far as affecting the outcomes of the November elections? No, it’s not very likely that today’s ruling will do that.
For more on the Supreme Court ruling: