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Hotline On Call

Watch Out, Red-State Democrats

A new poll finds opposition to Obamacare deepening, especially in 2014 battleground states.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., backed the 2010 health care law, but a new poll shows opposition to the law spiking in red states.(Liz Lynch)

photo of Alex  Roarty
November 19, 2013

Red-state Democrats always knew Obamacare would be a problem during next year's midterm election. But a new poll released Tuesday shows just how daunting a threat it is.

An imposing plurality of adults in states that backed Mitt Romney last year say they are more likely to oppose than support a lawmaker who backs the health care law, according to an ABC News/Washington Post survey. Forty-six percent of red-state citizens said they'd be less inclined to support the candidate; only 15 percent said they'd be more inclined.

Overall, the law's unpopularity has dipped far lower since its disastrous rollout, with disapproval of the Affordable Care Act among all adults spiking considerably since last month.

 

Those numbers draw a bull's-eye on the back of the four red-state Democratic incumbents who voted for the health care reform in 2010 and are up for reelection in 2014: Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. Each already faces a slim path to victory in their respective conservative-leaning states, one narrowed further by the law's increasing unpopularity. There's little remaining doubt that the law, even with elections a year away, will play a defining role in the 2014 races, and how Democrats handle the issue will largely determine whether the party retains its Senate majority.

It's also a warning for Senate Democratic candidates running in other red states, such as Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Kentucky's Alison Lundergan Grimes. Unlike their incumbent counterparts, they didn't vote for the law, but Republicans will nonetheless aggressively link it to them throughout their campaign.

Among all adults nationwide, 37 percent said backing Obamacare would make them less likely to support a candidate, while 21 percent said the opposite. That's the biggest gap the poll has ever recorded, The Post reported.

Thirty-five percent of independents say support for the law would make them less likely to vote for a lawmaker, while 18 percent say they'd be more likely to support them. The results are more discouraging for Democrats among whites, who constitute the vast bulk of voters in 2014 battlegrounds like Arkansas—46 percent to 20 percent.

Making matters worse for Democrats, the law has taken a heavy toll on President Obama's own approval ratings. Just 42 percent now back the president's performance, the poll found, the lowest point recorded for Obama by the ABC/Post survey. The poll was conducted Nov. 14-17 and surveyed 1,006 adults nationwide. The margin of error for the full survey is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, though the margin of error is higher for subgroups.

Democrats running in 2014, including a pair of House Democrats running for the Senate, have aggressively sought changes to the law in recent weeks. They've voted to let insurance companies resell their existing health plans, enrolled in the health care exchanges themselves, and ordered investigations into why the White House's implementation has been so rocky—moves designed to put distance between themselves and the law's struggling rollout.

Their actions suggest the Democratic Party still believes that even as voters grow increasingly angry with Obamacare, they want to fix—not repeal—the law. That's the frame operatives hoped to use before the disastrous rollout, one many were confident would turn the reform into a winning issue for the party. There's evidence they're still right.

The latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, also released Tuesday, found that support for outright repeal of the law has not grown since July. Thirty-eight percent said Obamacare should be repealed, compared with 35 percent who said lawmakers should "wait and see how things go before making any changes." Those numbers are largely unchanged since the summer.

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