Obamacare’s Partisan Divide Is Bending Our Brains

People believe what they want to about Obamacare, even when the question is about their family and friends.

A Tea-Party supporter protest outside the US Supreme Court on the third day of oral arguements over the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 28, 2012 in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Sam Baker
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Sam Baker
May 30, 2014, 1 a.m.

Obama­care is such a thor­oughly par­tis­an is­sue that even when voters are asked about their own lives, they an­swer along party lines.

“How has Obama­care af­fected you?” is a ques­tion whose an­swer de­pends on your in­come, how you get health in­sur­ance, and a couple of oth­er demo­graph­ics. But how people think Obama­care has af­fected them de­pends in­stead on their polit­ics, ac­cord­ing to the latest track­ing poll from the Kais­er Fam­ily Found­a­tion.

There has al­ways been a stub­born par­tis­an di­vide in pub­lic ap­prov­al of Obama­care, and the latest Kais­er poll shows no change on that front.

But the sur­vey in­dic­ates that even when de­scrib­ing real-world ex­per­i­ences — at a time when mil­lions of people have gained ac­cess to cov­er­age and mil­lions have seen their plans can­celed — voters still see those ef­fects through a polit­ic­al lens.

A ma­jor­ity of all re­spond­ents (60 per­cent) and even a ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­ans (54 per­cent) said they had not been dir­ectly af­fected by the health care law.

But among those who said they had dir­ectly felt the ef­fects of Obama­care, Demo­crats over­whelm­ingly said they had been helped, while Re­pub­lic­ans over­whelm­ingly said they had been hurt.

Even after con­trolling for in­come and in­sur­ance status — the is­sues that ac­tu­ally de­term­ine who’s af­fected, and how — polit­ics still pre­dicts wheth­er people think they’ve been helped or hurt, Kais­er said.

Polit­ics also shapes how voters think the law has af­fected the people around them.

A lot of Demo­crats (48 per­cent) said they per­son­ally know someone who was able to get health in­sur­ance be­cause of Obama­care. Only 19 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans said they know such a per­son.

By con­trast, Re­pub­lic­ans were twice as likely to say they know someone who lost their cov­er­age, or their job, be­cause of the law.

Over­all pub­lic opin­ion of the law has barely changed in a year and a half; it’s deeply di­vided and leans neg­at­ive, by 45 per­cent to 38 per­cent, in the latest poll. But the polit­ics could fa­vor Re­pub­lic­ans more than those fig­ures let on, thanks to a per­sist­ent in­tens­ity gap.

A slight ma­jor­ity (51 per­cent) of all re­gistered voters said they’re “tired of hear­ing can­did­ates for Con­gress talk about the health care law,” but 60 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans dis­agreed with that state­ment, say­ing they’d rather keep the Obama­care de­bate alive.

Crit­ics’ feel­ings about Obama­care con­tin­ue to run deep­er than sup­port­ers’; 33 per­cent of all re­spond­ents, and 61 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans, have a “very un­fa­vor­able” view of the law. By con­trast, just 19 per­cent of all re­spond­ents and 36 per­cent of Demo­crats have a “very fa­vor­able” view.

Re­pub­lic­an voters also don’t seem likely to push their can­did­ates away from a fo­cus on re­peal. When asked wheth­er Con­gress should fo­cus on fix­ing the law or re­pla­cing it, 65 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­an voters chose re­peal. (Among all voters, fix­ing the law held a 59-per­cent edge.)

While ma­jor­it­ies of re­gistered voters are tired of the Obama­care de­bate and un­sat­is­fied with the GOP’s “re­peal” mes­sage, the Kais­er sur­vey sug­gests that the is­sue re­mains a big mo­tiv­at­or for the Re­pub­lic­an base — and that may be all the party needs for Novem­ber’s midterms, which tra­di­tion­ally hinge on turnout rather than on per­suad­ing in­de­pend­ent voters.

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