In late 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid put into words one of the tacit assumptions that powered Democratic support for the Affordable Care Act: It would help Democratic senators at the polls the following year.
“I think it’s going to be good for them,” Reid said about Obamacare. “By that time, there will be a lot of people on it that have already signed up. It’ll be fine.”
It was not fine. The Democrats were blown out in the 2014 elections and Reid lost his majority. While it was true that the Affordable Care Act had kicked in and people had gained insurance, that didn’t translate to electoral success — at least then.
As it turns out, it didn’t necessarily help much in 2016, either.
Data released from the Census Bureau this week shows a broad drop in the number of uninsured people across the country from 2014 to 2015. Most counties saw a decline. Most counties also then went on to vote for Donald Trump for president, despite his regular insistence that he’d quickly rip Obamacare out by the roots.
If we plot the results of the election by county from those that saw the biggest drop in the percentage of the population that was uninsured since 2012 to those that saw the smallest drop — or, in a few cases, an increase — it’s obvious that there’s no strong correlation. There’s an even mix of counties that voted for Hillary Clinton or Trump scattered throughout.
We can look at that same data another way, plotting the 2016 results against the decrease in the percentage of uninsured people from 2012 to 2015.
A big cloud like that generally suggests that there’s no strong correlation between the data on the two axes.
Notice the bottom part of that cloud, though. The dots at the bottom (and drifting out past the lower boundary) are those counties that saw the biggest drops in the percentage of uninsured people over that four-year period. And nearly all of them voted for Trump.
In fact, 41 of the 50 counties that had the biggest drops backed Trump, by an average margin of 53 percentage points.
The link here, in part, is that the drops in the percentage of uninsured were bigger in counties with smaller populations — and counties with smaller populations are also generally counties that are more rural and more Republican. But the assumption Reid made that more coverage would equal more Democratic votes didn’t happen in those places.
If we combine the vote totals from counties that saw different levels of decline in the percentage of uninsured people, there’s more of a correlation. Clustered into chunks of 15 million to 20 million voters, those places that saw bigger drops in the number of uninsured people collectively were more favorably inclined to Clinton.
But, of course, this also means that we’re starting to loop in cities with big populations and a Democratic lean.
What it took for Obamacare to become a political asset, it seems, may have been Trump’s election. The prospect of actually losing that insurance has spurred the policy to be viewed much more positively in recent months.
Whether that will eventually bear the political fruit that Reid once assumed remains to be seen.