Pollsters: Negative View of Obamacare Could Give Edge to Republicans in 2014

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Supporters of the Tea Party movement demonstrate outside the Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 20, 2010.
National Journal
Clara Ritger
March 7, 2014, 12:11 p.m.

A new sur­vey finds that a strong con­tin­gent of Amer­ic­ans still don’t like Obama­care, and that in­tens­ity is likely to bring out more votes for Re­pub­lic­ans than Demo­crats this fall.

Demo­crat Peter Hart and Re­pub­lic­an Bill McIn­turff, the lead poll­sters of the NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al poll, presen­ted their new ana­lys­is at an an­nu­al in­sur­ance in­dustry con­fer­ence Thursday. Ac­cord­ing to their num­bers, 2014 could be shap­ing up to be a Re­pub­lic­an year, a cause for con­cern for Demo­crats who could lose the Sen­ate ma­jor­ity over close reelec­tion bids.

“The law has be­come like Vel­cro,” McIn­turff said at the Amer­ica’s Health In­sur­ance Plans con­fer­ence. “Any­thing bad that hap­pens in health care now is at­trib­uted to the health care law.”

When asked about the cov­er­age pro­vi­sions of the Af­ford­able Care Act — such as pro­tec­tion for con­sumers with preex­ist­ing con­di­tions — 44 per­cent of voters said they feel hope­ful. But 51 per­cent said they feel fear­ful when hear­ing about the pos­sib­il­ity that premi­ums will go up, that some Amer­ic­ans are los­ing their cur­rent cov­er­age, and that em­ploy­er-sponsored in­sur­ance may change.

“Any off-year elec­tion is about one thing: turnout,” Hart said. “In­tens­ity on these is­sues makes all the dif­fer­ence in the world.”

It’s why the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is do­ing all it can to pre­vent neg­at­ive per­son­al stor­ies from crop­ping up between now and the elec­tion, McIn­turff said, such as this week’s an­nounce­ment al­low­ing plans that do not meet the law’s cov­er­age re­quire­ments to be re­newed for two ad­di­tion­al years. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials denied that the delay had any polit­ic­al motives.

The Demo­crats’ ma­jor prob­lem in 2014 may be that there’s not enough time to re­pair the neg­at­ive im­pres­sion people have about the Af­ford­able Care Act, McIn­turff said.

“After hear­ing more about the health care law, voters be­come more sup­port­ive, but opin­ion re­mains a mod­est net neg­at­ive,” McIn­turff said.

Some 9 per­cent of people said a can­did­ate’s po­s­i­tion on the health care law is the most im­port­ant factor in de­term­in­ing how they will vote, while 51 per­cent of people said it is a ma­jor factor, and only 10 per­cent said it is not a factor at all.

With­in the 9 per­cent who put health care as their top vot­ing is­sue for 2014, 60 per­cent said they op­pose the law, com­pared with 30 per­cent who sup­port it.

“I see 9 per­cent as quite high com­pared to oth­er pre­ced­ents,” McIn­turff said.

Oth­er hot-but­ton is­sues — such as abor­tion, gun rights, and gay mar­riage — usu­ally have about 5 per­cent of voters in­dic­at­ing that it will be the most im­port­ant is­sue when pick­ing a can­did­ate, the poll­sters said.

While fa­vor­ab­il­ity of the health care law is split along party lines, the GOP ap­pears to have the up­per hand with in­de­pend­ent voters. Some 79 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans op­pose the law, com­pared with 8 per­cent who said they sup­port it. Mean­while, 50 per­cent of in­de­pend­ents say they op­pose the law, and 29 per­cent sup­port it. Demo­crats re­main loy­al sup­port­ers, with only 13 per­cent op­posed.

Among all voters sur­veyed, 45 per­cent in­dic­ated they op­pose the law, and 36 per­cent of those re­por­ted strong op­pos­i­tion. Roughly 34 per­cent sup­port the law, and of those 23 per­cent strongly sup­port it.

An­oth­er is­sue for Demo­crats in 2014, Hart said, is the lack of sup­port for the law among the un­in­sured.

Roughly 49 per­cent of voters without health cov­er­age op­pose the law and 23 per­cent sup­port it. Among those who drop in and out of in­sur­ance, 54 per­cent op­pose the law and 28 per­cent sup­port it.

But Re­pub­lic­ans could also be caught if voters de­cide they would rather “fix and keep” the law rather than “re­peal and re­place,” McIn­turff said. Most voters — 54 per­cent — say they want the health law fixed rather than totally elim­in­ated or kept as-is. And 70 per­cent of un­de­cided voters said they want it fixed.

Health care is second only to the eco­nomy and jobs as a vot­ing is­sue in 2014, Hart said. Some 15 per­cent of voters say health care is the No. 1 is­sue, while 31 per­cent say it’s in the top two is­sues for 2014, as op­posed to the eco­nomy/jobs, which 36 per­cent of re­spond­ents said was the No. 1 is­sue and 55 per­cent said was in the top two.

Re­spond­ents were in­ter­viewed by phone between Feb. 16 and 20. The res­ults had a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.46 per­cent­age points.

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