Five Observations from four years of polling data on Obamacare

As we start 2014, it seems clear Obamacare will once again be a central focus of congressional and senatorial campaigns. For some, there seem to be questions about how the law is being perceived and whether it will be a political advantage or albatross for Democrats.

On a national level the data has told a consistent story for months. The data that existed in July 2013 led me to predict “it is more likely embattled Democrats will run from Obamacare rather than on it [in 2014].” Since then, the fumbled rollout of and the frustration and anger felt by many Americans whose plans were cancelled have made that notion more and more a reality for red-state Democrats in key Senate races.

But, the spin continues. In a CBS News article titled “Can Democrats Overcome Obamacare in 2014” Emily Bittner, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was quoted saying “I think that we are in a very, very different place than we were in 2010 or 2012 when [the healthcare law] was sort of this nebulous thing that people didn’t know about, and now people don’t want to see their benefits repealed.”

I guess if the DCCC likes that assumption then they can keep it.

But, national data suggests the following five points that run counter to this Democratic narrative.

#1           Being “nebulous” was the best thing going for Obamacare.

A quick look at all the tracking data across publicly available national polls since April 2009 archived by (RCP) shows that once the healthcare plan became a law, fewer Americans supported it.

In fact, from the RCP set of data through the end of 2013 (including 428 polls since The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll first asked their good/bad idea question in April 2009) the law has only had majority support (50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} or more) in nine individual polls.

After the law’s passage in 2010, just two individual polls have measured majority support, with the other seven all measured in 2009 before the plan was signed into law.


#2           There is about as much political capital to be extracted from the law today as there was in 2010.

Many of the provisions of the law that have consistently been the most popular and favored in polls, such as, requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing health conditions, covering young adults under 26, and ending lifetime dollar limits on essential benefits, have already been put in place and are part of the current healthcare experience. But, national data suggests that even with these provisions in place, the law is no more or less popular.

A comparison of 5,600 interviews collected on behalf of The Wall Street Journal and NBC News in 2010 and 5,800 interviews conducted by WSJ-NBC in 2013, shows overall opinion on whether the law is a good idea or bad idea have shifted just one net point. And importantly, intensity, those feeling strongly the law is a good or bad idea, is roughly the same share of the electorate today that it was three years ago.

From what you have heard about the new health care law, do you think it is a good idea or a bad idea? If you do not have an opinion either way, please just say so. (If Good idea/Bad idea, ask:) And, do you feel that way strongly, or not so strongly?

  2010 2013
Total Good Idea……………….. 36 35
Strongly …………………………. 30 27
Not so strongly ………………… 6 8
Total Bad idea………………….. 47 47
Not so strongly ………………… 3 6
Strongly …………………………. 44 41
Do not have an opinion …….. 16 17
  Not sure ……………………….. 1



#3           Partisans are locked-in with only marginal negative shifts among Democrats and Independents.

There is very little movement by party suggesting the partisan division in opinion around the law is firmly locked-in. The margin of error movement that does exist does not bode well for the law or the Obama administration as it shows:

  • Twice as many Independents believe the law is a bad idea (52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) than believe it is a good idea (26{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) and when compared to 2010, Independents are marginally more negative.
  • Democrats are not nearly as supportive of the law (62{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} good idea – 15{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} bad idea) as Republicans are opposed (7{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} good idea – 84{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} bad idea) and when compared to 2010, four percent (4{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) more Democrats do not report an opinion on the law one way or the other.

Majority opposition among Independents and disengagement among the Democratic base on this issue could have repercussions in the 2014 elections in key senate battles.



  2013 …………………….. 7 84 8
  2010 …………………….. 8 83 9


  2013 …………………….. 26 52 21
  2010 …………………….. 28 50 22


  2013 …………………….. 62 15 22
  2010 …………………….. 64 15 18


#4           Young Americans have gravitated away from the law.

An ominous sign for the Obama administration and supporters of Obamacare is the reversal in opinion among 18-34 year olds, a group the law needs to sign up (in droves) and buy healthcare in order to provide affordable insurance to Americans with pre-existing conditions and make the law financially viable. These young healthy Americans supported the law by four points in 2010 but now oppose it by the same margin.



  2013 …………………….. 36 40 23
  2010 …………………….. 42 38 18


  2013 …………………….. 33 52 14
  2010 …………………….. 35 49 15


  2013 …………………….. 38 47 14
  2010 …………………….. 35 49 14

65 or older

  2013 …………………….. 32 50 18
  2010 …………………….. 31 51 16



#5           The law has more opposition and less support today than it did three months ago.

The latest WSJ-NBC poll conducted in December 2013 found just 34{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of adults believe Obamacare is a good idea while 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} said it is a bad idea, which is the first time that “bad idea” has reached 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} since the question was first asked in April 2009.

In 32 of the 40 polls compiled by RCP between October 2013 and December 2013, majorities of Americans said they were opposed to the law.  When averaged by month, the polls compiled by RCP show the net margin of opposition nearly doubled from October to December.

For/Favor/Good Idea Oppose/Against/Bad Idea Difference


October 42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} -8{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}
November 39{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} 57{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} -18{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}
December 38{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} 53{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} -15{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}

The Bottom Line

The trajectory of public opinion on Obamacare is negative. The two most important factors of national opinion around the law are a firmly established and consistent partisan filter and a slow but consistent erosion of support among younger Americans. The Obama administration would have to significantly change these trends, that is bring a significant number of younger Americans onboard and/or move Independents,  to make Obamacare a winning issue nationally.  With more policy problems forecast for Obamacare, that is unlikely to happen.

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