When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. ObamaCare, passed on a party-line vote in March 2010, prominent Democrats predicted that despite flagging poll numbers, the law would boost the popularity of the legislators who supported it. In a Washington Post op-ed, Obama pollster Joel Benenson prophesied that not only would Americans come to like the law, Republicans would be the ones to face negative political consequences. A White House communications aide promised The New York Times that Democrats would run “aggressively” on the law. Former President Bill Clinton argued to Democratic activists in 2009 that the law’s popularity would go up “the minute the president signs” the bill.
Yet polls since then consistently show that roughly half the public opposes the law, while less than 40 percent approve. New research indicates that Democrats who voted for ObamaCare, far from receiving an electoral boost, have suffered negative consequences at the ballot box.
In a March paper published online by the journal American Politics Research, researchers led by Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan report that “supporters of health care reform paid a significant price at the polls” in 2010. On average, the share of the vote drawn by Democrats who voted for ObamaCare was 5.8 percentage points lower than the share received by Democrats in comparable electoral positions who voted against it. If it weren’t for that difference, Nyhan and his colleagues say, Democrats might have won 25 additional seats in the House—enough to retain control of the chamber.