And such is increasingly the case with Obamacare.
Despite the law's middling and often underwater approval ratings, a Washington Post-ABC News poll this month showed a clear majority of Americans did not want the Supreme Court to roll back the federal subsidies under Obamacare that are at issue in the soon-to-be-decided Supreme Court case. The court ruled Thursday that the subsidies would stand.
And another poll showed that, if the court had rolled them back, people pretty clearly wanted Congress and the states to act to fix the mess.
Which almost definitely would not have happened.
First, the second poll. The Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll showed 63 percent of Americans said that if the Supreme Court struck down the subsidies, Congress should pass a law to restore them in states that rely on the federal exchange. (At issue in King v. Burwell was whether the law allowed states without their own marketplaces to get federal subsidies, and about two-thirds of states don't have their own marketplaces).
The poll also showed that, in those states without their own exchanges, 55 percent of people said their state should set up its own marketplace in response to a Supreme Court ruling striking down the federal subsidies. Just 32 percent said their state should not. And we would emphasize, these are predominantly red states that opted not to set up their own exchanges under Obamacare (for obvious/political reasons).
Even Republicans were pretty evenly split on their states setting up their own marketplaces to salvage the subsidies, with 44 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed.
National Republicans had been publicly hopeful that King v. Burwell results in those federal subsidies being struck down. The logic goes that, without those subsidies, the entire Obamacare system would have been rendered unworkable, and new life could be breathed into the repeal effort.
What they couldn't predict, though, was what kind of public pressure might exist for Congress (or the states) to fix what the Supreme Court dismantled. These polls suggested it could have been substantial.
And they aren't the only ones. The subsides, after all, are broadly popular, irrespective of the overall law. A Kaiser poll in December showed 76 percent favored subsidies for low- and moderate-income Americans.
And as the Post's Greg Sargent noted, states that would lose federal subsidies are more likely to be battlegrounds in the 2016 presidential and Senate contests.
The question from there is whether people really understood the ins and outs of all this -- and whether opponents' distaste for Obamacare, which generally polls more unpopular than popular, leads them to embrace letting it wither on the vine. In other words, was the support for fixing the subsidy problem something that would have persisted even after the issue comes into focus? (People, after all, generally like the idea of subsidies of low- and moderate-income Americans, which is what this is. But they also might not understand the overall implications of letting the subsides expire.)
If these polls accurately portray the debate that will exist in the weeks after the Supreme Court rules, there could have been significant pressure on the GOP-led Congress and Republican-controlled states that haven't set up their own exchanges to act.
But that doesn't mean Republicans would act. In fact, even if they wanted to, they might not have been able to. As we've seen on myriad issues, Republicans in Congress are deathly afraid of irritating the party base. And the 38 percent of Republicans who say they would want Congress to fix the subsidy problem and the 44 percent who say they want their state to set up a marketplace probably aren't compelling numbers to Republicans more worried about more-conservative voters unseating them in a primary.
Nor wouold any Republican governor with a political future or a legacy to consider want to be seen as the Republican who enabled Obamacare to survive.
All the while of course, these Republicans would have been doing something that is pretty clearly unpopular with the broader public by not moving to restore the subsidies in one way or another.
Thursday's Supreme Court decision, while a setback policy-wise for the GOP, is probably a good thing politically in the long term for Republicans, who are no longer faced with public pressure to fix a law they refuse to touch in any way except to repeal it.