A tea party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, N.H, on Oct. 27, 2012. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

At the beginning of the 2014 election cycle, there wasn't much that Republicans loved talking about more than Obamacare. And they're still talking about it, but not nearly as much.


This chart, courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation, shows the number of times members of Congress have mentioned the word "Obamacare" in floor speeches. That point way at the tippy top? That was September 2013, when Congress mentioned Obamacare 2,753 times. In June 2014, "Obamacare" was uttered just 171 times. And that's despite Congress having been in session for about the same number of days.

And it's no coincidence that as the Obamacare badmouthing died down, some rare good news about the law's first 100 days has started trickling in.

A new Gallup survey shows that 13.4 percent of Americans were uninsured at the end of the second quarter of 2014 -- a 4.6 percent drop from the third quarter of 2013, when anti-Obamacare rhetoric seemed to hit its peak.

Philip Bump
Chart by Philip Bump


It's the lowest number measured by Gallup since it began collecting data on the uninsured in 2008. The uninsured rate dropped 6.3 percent since the third quarter of last year for both those aged 26 to 34 and 18 to 25.

Other studies and surveys released this week also show that the insured population is going up. The Commonwealth Fund, a private health-care foundation, released a study Thursday showing 9.5 million fewer Americans are uninsured now than were before the Affordable Care Act's insurance provisions were implemented.

And, those newly insured people are happy about the coverage too. The study found that 78 percent of Republicans with new coverage are optimistic that the insurance is going to improve their ability to get quality health care. Another 85 percent of newly insured independents agree. Sixty percent of the newly insured have already used their coverage.

In addition, the Brookings Institution has a new study on Obamacare ads this week. About $450 million has been spent on ads blasting the Affordable Care Act, but it hasn't seemed to make much of a dent in enrollment numbers in the most-targeted states. In states like Kentucky -- which has seen some of the highest levels of anti-Obamacare spending -- the fact that the insurance exchange was marketed as Kynect, not Obamacare, likely decreased the impact of ads railing against a federal law without any friendly local branding. The ads might have done a good job of making the federal health-care law a villain, but most Americans have had no problem finding problems with federal actors and policies. At the local level, where the policy is being implemented, the ads haven't really stopped people from signing up.

That's likely owing to the fact that not doing so carries penalties -- which are relatively small at first. But it also suggests that Americans are giving the new health-care law a chance, or at least aren't so turned off that they decide to opt out.

However, there are still many reasons Obamacare talk on the trail isn't going to disappear.

During midterms, the voting population shrinks considerably, driven by apathy and the absent glamour of a presidential campaign. The people who still find it in their heart to turn out are older and more partisan. Thanks to Medicare, people over 65 have never comprised a large portion of the uninsured. Senior citizens are the only age bracket that hasn't really been influenced by the Affordable Care Act's insurance marketplace.


These more conservative-leaning voters are far more susceptible to anti-Obamacare advertising. A Washington Post-ABC News poll from April found that Americans over 65 were the most likely to oppose the federal health-care law or have no opinion on it.

Another important variable in opinions on health care? Whether states decided to expand Medicaid.

In states that implemented the Medicaid expansion, the uninsured rate for impoverished populations dropped 11 percent, according to the Commonwealth Fund data. In states with no expansion, those in poverty only saw their uninsured rate drop by 2 percent. Voters in these states have less of a reason to be excited about Obamacare, so the high ad spending makes sense.

Lastly, even before uninsured numbers began dropping, around 82 percent of Americans were insured. Millions of people were without insurance, but overall the marketplaces and Medicaid expansion directly impacted relatively few Americans. A fear of losing quality care has been a frequent refrain of the anti-Obamacare crowd, and there's a much-more-massive population that could find that compelling. Nearly all of the anti-Obamacare ads from groups like Americans for Prosperity have featured people who said they lost insurance, rather than uninsured people.

The Republican strategy of trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act -- or at least run against it -- depends heavily on a storyline where everything even tangentially related to the law has gone terribly amiss. When there is anything amounting to good news (as opposed to what happened during the rollout), that narrative suffers. The dropping uninsured numbers and rising goodwill toward the law by those most affected by it is making it harder to pull that narrative thread. The law is still new, and it hasn't finished rolling out all its provisions, so it's hardly in the clear yet.

For now, however, railing against the law doesn't seem like the best use of conservatives' time, which many Republicans seem to have figured out.

The law is still hardly popular, but when it comes to the 2014 election, a lack of timely Obamacare-is-bad news makes this less of a liability for Democrats. We'll see if they can keep avoiding bad storylines over the next four months.

Scott Clement provided reporting for this post.