The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The White House’s Obamacare victory lap looking more like a false start

Democrats have been claiming a turning point in the battle over Obamacare for the better part of the last month. First came the news that 8 million people had signed up -- exceeding the law's goals -- and then came the Congressional Budget Office report that its cost estimates are decreasing.

President Obama even took something of a victory lap, declaring the debate over his signature health-care law over.

When it comes to the American people, though, there has been basically zero rallying effect. And in fact, they still expect Obamacare to do significantly more harm than good -- in about the same proportions as before.

As we have noted, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows approval of the law and of Obama's implementation of it have dropped after a momentary boost. Americans disapprove of the law overall 48-44 and disapprove of Obama's implementation 57-37.

What's perhaps more telling is that, despite the rare good news of the past few weeks, their perceptions of the law remain basically as-is -- that is, pretty dim. To wit:

  • Americans say 50-41 that the implementation of the law has been worse than they expected rather than better.
  • They say 44-24 that the health-care system is getting worse rather than getting better as a result of Obamacare.
  • They say 29-14 that the quality of care is getting worse rather than better.
  • They say 47-8 that their health-care costs are increasing due to the law rather than decreasing.
  • They say 58-11 that the overall cost of health care in the United States is increasing rather than decreasing.

Almost all of these numbers are basically unchanged from in recent months. The one exception would be a slight uptick in the percentage of people who say the law is making things better (from 19 percent in December to 24 percent today).

But even with that, the law's long-term prognosis -- (ahem) so to speak -- hasn't changed, with Americans still seeing it as more expensive than it needs to be for both themselves and the country. And nearly twice as many still say the law is making things worse rather than making things better.

And then there's the new Kaiser Family Foundation poll, which shows just 38 percent of people think the law is working as intended despite its rocky start, while 57 percent say it's not working the way the White House hoped.

And, perhaps most strikingly, a strong majority of Americans actually think the Obamacare sign-ups that the White House has touted came in below expectations rather than above them.

Few things demonstrate how badly Democrats are losing this argument right now; even when it comes to their one big Obamacare "victory," Americans say almost three to one that it's actually a negative.

The totality of the polling shows that the law is viewed in pretty much the same light as it was when it was plagued by Web site problems and cancellation notices. The sign-ups and the CBO report haven't fundamentally changed much of anything.

The White House, of course, will continue to press the case that the law is working, and it is winning. It has to, politically speaking, if it wants to rally support for the midterm elections.

For now, though, Obama and the Democrats are still confronting a public that is quite skeptical.