After failing to sell the American public on the Affordable Care Act over the past three years, Democrats have decided to try a new tactic. Their argument is that Obamacare is not really unpopular at all. That’s right. Despite hovering below 40% approval in the Real Clear Politics average of polls and failing to reach 35% in the latest Associated Press and New York Times polls, Democrats are trying to make the argument that the Affordable Care Act is not the political albatross it appears to be.
The New York Times’ Charles Blow offers perhaps the most ludicrous example of the poll contortions needed to make this argument:
A New York Times/CBS News poll released early this month found that 41 percent of Americans thought that the entire law should have been overturned, while 27 percent thought only the mandate should have been overturned and 24 percent thought the whole law should have been kept intact.
If you just took the numbers at face value, they would seem to support the Republican position. But let’s not. The same poll found that 37 percent of Americans believed the law went too far, while 27 percent said not far enough and 25 percent said about right.
When you cross-reference the numbers, just over two-thirds of the people who wanted the law struck down thought it went too far. That’s only 27 percent of those polled. Suddenly, the claim that a majority of the public wanted the court to strike it down for overreaching evaporates.
Without quibbling over the definition of “too far” (not far enough on cost reform, perhaps?), it boggles the mind to think that Mr. Blow believes the public is in love with Obamacare even though 68% of those polled said either the whole law or its core principle should be overthrown and only 25% described it as “about right.” Either Mr. Blow is trying to cheerlead a demoralized group of progressives or he has been occupying Bill Maher’s bubble for the last three years.
The other argument Democrats like to make is still weak, but at least it resides in the land of the (barely) reasonable. Every now and then an outlier poll comes along showing the ACA becoming more popular. This has been happening since health care was being debated, but each time it does, Democrats take it and run with it. Subsequent polling always shows the numbers reverting to their norms.
This same kind of faulty logic caused Republicans trouble over the Iraq War in 2006 and 2008. The GOP banked on the fact that although Americans did not like the war, they were not ready for an immediate pullout either. As a result, many Republicans attacked their Democratic opponents for wanting to bring the unpopular war to a premature end. The strategy backfired.
Of course, public opinion should not always be the guiding factor in politics. If Democrats believe a national health care system is the right thing for the country, they should certainly go for it. Just don’t tell the American public they like something when they don’t. There is no better way to lose an election than to spend your campaign dollars arguing that your opponent will do exactly what the public wants them to do.
Brandon J. Gaylord, the editor-in-chief of HorseRacePolitics.com, is a graduate of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. Brandon got his start in politics as an intern in Vice President Richard Cheney’s Office of Political Affairs.