Like all political storylines, this one is overly simplistic — damn media! — and repeated endlessly by many people who have spent very little time delving into just how much of a problem Romney’s stewardship of a Massachusetts health care law will be for his presidential ambitions.
Enter the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, which provides us with some relatively detailed data about how health care plays among primary voters.
The short answer: It’s far from great but nowhere near a campaign ender just yet.
Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 21 percent support Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan while 41 percent oppose it.
Go deeper inside the numbers, however, and it becomes more clear just how much of a problem the issue poses for Romney.
Fifty-six percent of those who describe themselves as “very conservative” oppose the plan including 45 percent who strongly oppose it. Just 13 percent support the law with 4 percent doing so strongly.
Those most conservative voters also tend to comprise the bulk of primary and caucus voters in early states like Iowa and South Carolina.
That there is such a passion gap between very conservative voters who strongly oppose the bill and those who strongly support itonly affirms that those voters who don’t like Romney’s Massachusetts law will be far more motivated to go to the ballot box to make that unhappiness known.
On the flipside, the poll also contains data that suggests Romney’s health care law is not the overarching issue for Republican voters that it is for the GOP strategist and chattering class.
Nearly four in 10 — 37 percent — of respondents said they had no opinion about Romney’s health care law. Those numbers were relatively consistent across all demographic groups; 40 percent of self identified white evangelical protestants offered no opinion on Romney’s law as did those making under $50,000 and those identifiying themselves as moderates.
What that data tells us is that Romney still has an opportunity to frame what he did on health care for a not-insignificant portion of the Republican electorate.
Romney’s approach so far has been to cast his plan as the right one for a single state and contrast its relative simplicity with the complexity of the national health care law passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Obama. (Romney likes to make the point that his bill was 70 pages long while the Obama law was 2,700.)
While that line of argument almost certainly won’t be enough to convince conservative Republicans of the rightness of what Romney did in Massachusetts, it remains to be seen whether he can win over the chunk of voters who don’t know much yet about what he did with health care in the Bay State. (Of course, Romney isn’t likely to be keen on going on an education effort about his health care law; he wants to talk about the economy first, second and last.)
What’s clear from the Post/ABC data is that while health care is a major hurdle that Romney must clear to win the nomination, it’s not the political dead end — at least not yet — that many have portrayed it.