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

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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