Watch Out, Red-State Democrats

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

Mary Landrieu (D-LA) speaks with journalists at the 2008 State of the Union address on January 28, 2008.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Nov. 19, 2013, 6:04 a.m.

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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