Obamacare a heavy burden for Democrats as implementation and 2014 elections loom

The data I’ve compiled and written about in previous posts (here, here, and here) help set the scene for the challenges this administration faces as it looks forward to the implementation of major provisions of the health care law (in three months) and the 2014 Congressional elections (in about 15 months).

The latest NBC-WSJ survey, conducted July 17-21, provides further evidence of a deeply disenchanted and divided public, putting Obama, Democrats, and this administration’s namesake law in a very precarious position.

The data suggest the electorate is fed up with Washington and as sour toward President Obama and his signature healthcare law today as it was just before the 2010 election.

    1. For the fourth track in a row, roughly twice as many Americans say the country is on the wrong track than who say we are heading in the right direction (29{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Right Direction – 61{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Wrong Track).
    2. The president’s overall job approval (45{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Approve – 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Disapprove) is down seven points from the beginning of 2013 and is currently at its lowest point since late 2011.
    3. Congress’s approval rating at an all-time low (12{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Approve – 83{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Disapprove), with universal disapproval across the political spectrum. This follows devastating June Gallup data, which found confidence in Congress today lower than any other institution tested by Gallup since 1973.
    4. The poll finds a politically divided public and a public concerned about partisanship in the Nation’s Capital:
      • Voters are evenly divided when asked who they would prefer control Congress as a result of the 2014 elections (44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} GOP Controlled – 44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Dem-Controlled).
      • Partisanship is the top reason respondents are unhappy with Washington (44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) ranking higher than neglect of the middle class (31{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).
      • A majority or plurality believe a partisan approach is being emphasized by the Republican Party (67{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}), Democratic Party (55{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) and by Barack Obama (48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).

This poll has especially ominous data when it comes to base support for Obamacare:

  1. The percentage of those who strongly feel the law is a bad idea is over 40{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} for the second track in a row, and this percentage alone outnumbers those who say the law is a good idea.
    chart 1
    Looking inside the numbers, perhaps most devastating finding is that 48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of uninsured adults, the people Obamacare is supposed to help the most, believe the law is a bad idea while only 28{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say it is a good idea.
  2. The ACA is only supported by core Democratic sub-groups. However, support modestly slid on this track even among these sub-groups.
    chart 2
  3. Most Republican candidates in the 2014 election cycle will not pay a heavy political price for running against Obamacare.
    The sub-groups below that make up the traditional “middle” of the electorate all believe the healthcare law is a bad idea by large margins.
    Additionally, most groups either believe Republicans should continue to try to prevent the law from taking effect or are evenly split on whether that is the best course to take or whether Republicans should “stop trying to block” the law.
    chart 3

And the data suggests Obama will have short coat-tails for candidates running in 2014:

  1. In July, just 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of respondents who voted for Obama in 2012 feel the country is headed in the right direction, that’s down from 62{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, based on the merged data from the first half of 2013.
  2. Obama Job disapproval among Independents is at 60{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, matching the highest disapproval rating among this group (first reached in August 2010). As Robert Blizzard and Patrick Lanne have explained thoroughly in previous posts, presidential job approval has great consequence in federal and state mid-term elections.
  3. NBC-WSJ also asked an open-ended question in the July survey about why respondents approved or disapproved of the job Obama was doing. Surprisingly, more than four in ten (43{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) respondents mentioned the health care law as part of their open-ended answer. This included 42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Republicans and 37{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Independents, who overwhelmingly had negative comments and 46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Democrats, among whom about half said something negative and half said something positive about Obamacare.
  4. A majority (54{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of voters who are “undecided” on which party they prefer to control Congress say they disapprove of the job Obama is doing as president. Across the merge data from 2010, just 47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of “undecided” voters disapproved of the job Obama was doing as president.

Bottom Line

In the summer of 2010, it may have seemed the administration was exercising great political calculus, minimizing their political risk and exposure by implementing Obamacare piecemeal over several years, spanning at least the next two election cycles. Democratic candidates and incumbents (especially Obama) would have a job to complete, a promise to keep, and a service to deliver to the voter, at least for two elections.

That was the idea, but in the current political environment, it is more likely embattled Democrats will run from Obamacare rather than on it. With trust and confidence in the federal government and Congress at record lows, a shrinking base of public support for the law, and looming federal and state elections, there may not be a worse environment to try to implement Obamacare.

Public Opinion Strategies