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Dem Pollster: Running Against Obamacare Won't Work for GOP in 2014

Dem Pollster: Running Against Obamacare Won't Work for GOP in 2014

By Alexis Simendinger - July 23, 2013

Republicans of all stripes are united around a shared hostility toward "Obamacare," but a prominent Democratic pollster said Tuesday that new data makes him doubt that victory is assured next year for opponents of President Obama's signature legislative achievement.

"They're likely to run this election on it, and they may run the presidential election on it," Stan Greenberg told reporters as he unpacked the results of a national survey designed to help Democrats in "exposing, monitoring and confronting the Republican Party."

Greenberg said the GOP effort to defeat Obama and other Democrats in 2012 based on opposition to the Affordable Care Act did not succeed, prompting him to doubt that a similar assault on the law will have the potent impact against Democrats that Republicans imagine.

Congress and Obama enacted the Affordable Care Act in 2010 to provide the uninsured with less costly options for quality health coverage, and—its backers say—to lower the costs of health care over time for most Americans. The law has been gradually implemented each year since passage; next year private insurance policies will become available to the uninsured through new, state-based marketplaces called “exchanges.”

Although House Republicans have passed legislation close to 40 times to repeal many of the features of the law, a majority of Americans now say they’d like to see the law implemented and improved, rather than repealed.

A new Washington Post poll released Tuesday shows why few Democratic candidates are putting the new law at the center of their campaigns: support for the law has plummeted among ideologically moderate and conservative Democrats, according to the survey. When the sweeping statute was first enacted, three-fourths of these Democrats said they supported it. In the Post's new survey, that number is under 50 percent. Overall, in the RCP polling average, support for the law is upside down, with 41.8 percent in favor, and 51.5 percent opposed.

Nonetheless, at Tuesday’s media roundtable sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Greenberg said he believes that continued GOP resistance to the law may be counterproductive. “I’m really skeptical that succeeds” in 2014, because it may be “interpreted as partisanship” aimed at the president and congressional Democrats, he said “The voters read this as 'gridlock,’ rather than being for them,” he added. “And for sure they don’t want a repeal.”

He said Democracy Corps, a research firm founded by Greenberg and top Bill Clinton strategist James Carville, is planning follow-up focus group discussions to test these ideas.

A Democracy Corps survey studying the Republican Party polled 950 voters around the country who participated in the 2012 elections, and 841 likely 2014 voters, plus an over-sample of an extra 350 Republicans. The survey, conducted from July 10-15, balanced cell and hard line telephone contacts with respondents, and had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.72 percentage points.

The new survey found a “hatred” expressed by Republicans toward the health reform law. The pollster said 85 percent of GOP evangelicals, and 92 percent of Tea Party conservatives say they feel “strongly unfavorable,” while 67 percent of Republicans who are religious, and 59 percent of Republicans who are moderate in their views said the same. Among independent voters who lean Republican, 78 percent frowned on the Affordable Care Act, and nearly half (46 percent) of non-leaning Independent voters said the same.

Greenberg said his polling work examining the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit known as Medicare Part D influenced his thinking about how early public suspicions about a major new health care law can dissipate when Americans feel the tangible benefits. “We will see what happens during implementation” of the Affordable Care Act, Greenberg added. “That’s a dangerous position to be in.”

He was critical of the Obama administration’s promotion and messaging about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, adding it would be preferable if the president and his supporters had not eventually embraced the originally pejorative shorthand “Obamacare.”

In his telling, that wasn’t the Democrats only misjudgment, either.

“They had an argument for passage … which was 'you can keep what you’ve got,’” Greenberg told reporters, “when in fact, it was a big, big change in the nature of insurance, and people would be invested in it if they’d actually say, 'this is a big change.’”

Obama has delivered numerous speeches reassuring Americans that the vast majority who have coverage through their employers or received Medicare benefits wouldn’t see any change. Greenberg suggested the White House sales pitch had been misleading on that score, creating an opening for Republicans to fan public doubts.

“It is going to happen!” the pollster said, referring to changes affecting insurance that Americans will experience now or later as a result of the law. Many of the big differences are beneficial and supported by the public after they understand the changes, he argues. The leading examples are the elimination of lifetime caps on insurance coverage if you’re sick, and the requirement that private insurers cannot deny coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions.

“These are big differences, but they’ve never made that kind of case,” Greenberg continued. “Hopefully, they’ll do a better job.” 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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