Who you gonna believe, clever bloggers obsessed with exit polls or your own eyes? Bloggers on the left–and some on the right–are trying really hard to deny the obvious: that the Obamacare rollout debacle hurt gubernatorial candiate Terry McAuliffe down the stretch in a way that should (and will) terrify Democrats. McAuliffe looked like he was cruising to a big victory. Then the Obamacle happened and he barely escaped with a 2 percent win. There was no last minute scandal that helped him. His main opponent, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, didn’t “take some magic personality pills the last two week,” as Conn Carroll put it. What happened was Obamacare.
Ezra Klein says that’s not the story. He notes exit polls showing that Virginia voters didn’t disapprove of Obamacare by any greater margin than they did in 2012, when they went for Obama. Journolist Greg Sargent cites pollster Geoff Garin, who says that Cuccinelli’s hardline stance against the Affordable Care Act–he was “the first attorney general to sue” to block it–didn’t poll well. Garin also argues that McAuliffe was never ahead by more than four percentage points–except for, you know, the period when he was, around the time of the government shutdown. Well, yeah.
So why did McAuliffe’s shutdown bulge dissipate so rapidly? Klein says “I don’t know.” I think I do! Many voters (including those cited by Sargent) may not like Obamacare while also not liking an “absolutist position against the law,” as embodied by Cuccinelli. When healtcare.gov crashes, though, their 53-45 opposition to the plan becomes more salient. Others may like Obamacare but not like White House f**king up Obamacare. They may want to give the law a chance–but react against the verdict they see coming in.
Nothing pollster Garin says contradicts Michael Barone’s point that the spectacularly awful Obamacare rollout is what produced the return to McAuliffe’s “normal” 2-4 percent lead. (What Garin calls a “spike” in McAuliffe’s favor due to the shutdown appears to have lasted a month, according to the RCP average.) That Cuccinelli was perceived as “extreme” on the issue–and “beyond conservative” in other areas, especially women’s issues–only makes his rapid rise in the wake of healthcare.gov all the more terrifying to Democrats.
Klein and Sargent give facile contrarianism a bad name! No politician, with his or her own career on the line, will believe a tendentious reading of snapshot exit polls over what they saw happening with their own eyes. Instead, if Obamacare keeps running into trouble–sticker shock, then “doc shock”–they will start to panic. Time to get ahead of the panic with a prophylactic cure!
You could fill Coachella with the number of history professors who’ve gotten tenure by demonstrating that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. But the Civil War was about slavery.