Obamacare Is Costing Democrats the White Women They’ll Need at the Ballot Box 

Polls show that when it comes to the troubled health care law, Democrats should be most concerned about one of their key constituencies.

A woman votes at the Park Slope Branch Public Library in the Brooklyn borough of New York November 5, 2013.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
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Alex Roarty
Dec. 5, 2013, midnight

It’s not the voters who hate Obama­care the most who are go­ing to mat­ter in next year’s elec­tions. It’s the in­de­pend­ents who fre­quently side with Demo­crats but could, if pro­pelled by a dis­taste for the health care law, take a ser­i­ous look at the GOP in 2014. And on this front, Demo­crats have a big prob­lem with one of their most cru­cial con­stitu­en­cies — white wo­men.

Polling provided to Na­tion­al Journ­al by the Kais­er Fam­ily Found­a­tion shows that white wo­men have soured con­sid­er­ably on the law, es­pe­cially in the month since its botched rol­lout. The skep­ti­cism runs es­pe­cially deep among blue-col­lar wo­men, some­times known as “wait­ress moms,” whose deeply pess­im­ist­ic at­ti­tudes to­ward the Af­ford­able Care Act should riddle Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates with anxi­ety.

Cer­tainly, the law’s un­pop­ular­ity gives Re­pub­lic­ans a tool to counter the Demo­crat­ic claim of a GOP “war on wo­men” — something Re­pub­lic­ans failed miser­ably at in 2012. But more sig­ni­fic­antly, it demon­strates that Demo­crats will have to fight just to re­tain core ele­ments of their con­stitu­ency. With 2014’s most im­port­ant cam­paigns already ly­ing in hos­tile ter­rit­ory like Alaska, Arkan­sas, and South Dakota, it’s a battle many of these can­did­ates can ill af­ford.

The Kais­er poll, which has been con­duc­ted monthly since Obama­care’s in­cep­tion, shows the law has nev­er been a big hit with white wo­men. But this group’s opin­ions took a sharply neg­at­ive turn in the Novem­ber res­ults.

Ac­cord­ing to Kais­er, 40 per­cent of col­lege-edu­cated white wo­men hold a “very un­fa­vor­able” view of the law — 10 points high­er than a month ago. An ad­di­tion­al 10 per­cent view the law “some­what un­fa­vor­ably.” A month ago, those two groups to­geth­er totaled just 42 per­cent.

That’s not damning in and of it­self, but this is the one slice of the white elect­or­ate where Demo­crats usu­ally per­form well. Pres­id­ent Obama won 46 per­cent of the group in 2012, and even that was an un­der­whelm­ing show­ing com­pared with re­cent Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates.

And that’s not all. Demo­crats should be far more wor­ried about white wo­men who do not have a high­er edu­ca­tion. The num­bers are astound­ing: In the latest Kais­er poll, 50 per­cent have a “very un­fa­vor­able” view of the law — 9 points high­er than in Oc­to­ber. An ad­di­tion­al 13 per­cent view it “some­what un­fa­vor­ably.” In­deed, an­ti­pathy among blue-col­lar white wo­men runs even deep­er than the most con­ser­vat­ive white demo­graph­ic group, blue-col­lar white men (59 per­cent of whom hold an un­fa­vor­able view, Kais­er found).

Re­mark­ably, only 16 per­cent of blue-col­lar white wo­men have a fa­vor­able view of Obama­care. They dis­ap­prove of it by a 4-1 ra­tio. (The poll found 21 per­cent did not know enough about the ACA to hold an opin­ion.) These voters are by no means a strongly Demo­crat­ic group: Obama won just 39 per­cent of them last year. But they do lean fur­ther left than their male coun­ter­parts, and Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates in 2014 will need to per­form even bet­ter with them to win reelec­tion. In 2008, for ex­ample, Demo­crat Mark Be­gich won his Sen­ate race in Alaska by claim­ing 54 per­cent of the white fe­male vote, which con­sti­tuted 41 per­cent of the state’s elect­or­ate. He’s a top GOP tar­get in 2014.

Re­pub­lic­ans sug­gest that white wo­men’s deep pess­im­ism is rooted in the cas­cade of neg­at­ive me­dia sur­round­ing the law. “Wo­men are more in­ter­ested in hav­ing health care than men are,” said Keith Emis, an Arkan­sas-based GOP poll­ster who works for Rep. Tom Cot­ton, the likely Re­pub­lic­an chal­lenger to Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Pry­or. “They have paid a whole lot more at­ten­tion to this.”

Obama­care’s un­pop­ular­ity runs deep in oth­er Demo­crat­ic con­stitu­en­cies too. A new poll by Har­vard’s In­sti­tute of Polit­ics, for one, found mil­len­ni­als turn­ing away from the law. And some GOP poll­sters ar­gue that fo­cus­ing on the ef­fects of just one group is mis­guided. “This isn’t just small seg­ments of the elect­or­ate; these are huge, broad top­ics that af­fect every­body,” said Dav­id Win­ston, a Re­pub­lic­an poll­ster with close ties to the House GOP. “Who isn’t in­ter­ested in health care?”

But groups such as the mil­len­ni­als aren’t as im­port­ant to Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates like Be­gich and Pry­or who are up for reelec­tion. Wo­men are cru­cial to their causes. And while Demo­crats might ul­ti­mately be able to sell voters on a “fix it, don’t re­peal it” ap­proach to Obama­care, the data show they’ve still got a lot more work to do.

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