Will Americans Come to Love ObamaCare’s Insurance Mandate?

It’s conventional wisdom that the individual mandate to purchase health insurance is ObamaCare’s biggest public liability: Polls consistently show that large majorities of the public are opposed to it and have been since before the law passed.

But might opposition to the mandate soften in the future? The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn looks at public opinion about the Massachusetts mandate, which has been in effect for several years and is less controversial than its federal cousin, and argues that it might:

In last year’s poll by the Boston Globeand Harvard School of Public Health, the most recent comprehensive survey I’ve found, 51 percent of respondents said they supported the requirement that almost everybody get insurance or pay a fine, while 44 percent said they opposed it. Opposition to the mandate was higher than it had been one year previously, but support for the law as a whole had increased during that span. Sixty-three percent said they supported the Massachusetts scheme, while just 21 percent said they opposed.

Cohn suggests that “there are reasons to think that the mandate would gain public acceptance, or at least become a lot less controversial, if it survives the Supreme Court and congressional Republicans.”

Predicting the swings of public opinion in advance is obviously tricky business, so it’s possible that opposition to the mandate could slip. But I wouldn’t be too confident. There’s a big difference between how Massachusetts residents perceived both RomneyCare and its mandate prior to passage and how the U.S. public felt about ObamaCare and its health coverage requirement before it became law: Namely, a majority of Massachusetts residents were in favor of RomneyCare-style health reform and its mandate before it passed. But that’s just not true of ObamaCare.

According to a 2008 survey of public opinion about the Massachusetts health law published in Health Affairs, there was "a favorable political environment" in the state before the law was passed. The mandates and expansions of government care that are now driving opposition to the national plan were supported by solid public majorities. In 2003, for example, majorities supported an employer mandate (76 percent), an individual mandate (56 percent), and an expansion of state-run health programs (82 percent). In 2005, the year the bill was passed in the state legislature, the report notes that 66 percent of the state reported supporting a universal coverage ballot initiative. And immediately after passage, before most residents had had the opportunity to interact with the system, support remained high, with 61 percent of state residents supporting the law.

Compared with the Harvard poll Cohn cites, the numbers haven’t changed much: Support for the mandate is down by five points since 2003. Support for the law as a whole is up two points since immediately after passage.
That just doesn’t match the national mood, where the political environment has consistently been far less favorable to President Obama’s health law. Since before the law’s passage, more of the public has opposed the law than supported it. Indeed, in the months following the law’s passage in 2010, opposition was so strong that several political scientists have reported evidence that it may have cost Democrats as many as 25 seats in the House — and majority control.

Cohn suggests that national feelings about the mandate may evolve to look more like they do in Massachusetts. But I think the more convincing story here is that the public’s opinion doesn’t change much over time: Massachusetts residents liked their health care law and its mandate prior to passage, and they like it still. If the national polls follow a similar pattern, it’s quite possible that Americans will continue to dislike both ObamaCare and its insurance mandate.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • BakedPenguin||

    How about a Thomas Mann date?

  • John||

    Those are really fun until you realize they last nine years.

  • Mike M.||

    Since it's probably going to be ruled to be unconstitutional and thrown out within the next month, I'll say no.

  • anon||

    I've yet to see evidence to support your assertion.

  • John||

    Did you read anything about the oral arguments? Did you miss the crying, whaling and gnashing of teeth among liberals after even the Wise Latina didn't seem to be buying any of the SG's arguments?

  • anon||

    Yeah, but then Dean shit all over my optimism.

  • John||

    Dean is wrong. He is totally misreading Wickard. No one else read's Wickard that way. The SG was not stupid. He just really didn't have good arguments to work with.

  • o3||

    his strongest argument wouldve been the potential damage to the employer mandate

  • WTF||

    his strongest argument wouldve been the potential damage to the employer mandate

    Which has fuck all to do with the constitutionality of the thing.

  • o3||

    has to do w how narrow, or expansive, the decision is.

  • Mike M.||

    True, I have no real evidence to back up that assertion, and neither does anyone else. I guess we'll find out within the next four to five weeks.

  • Mykeuva||

    I wouldn't get my hopes up for it being ruled unconstitutional. I had it at about 15% that the law would be overturned before oral arguments. After, I still only give it about 35 - 45 percent that it is overturned.

    The Supreme Court has a long history (at least the last 75 years or so) of being pretty terrible concerning commerce clause issues.

  • ||

    How about a Leslie Mann date?

  • BakedPenguin||

    I think you win.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Yeah, cause what the people of Massachusetts think is just like what the rest of the country thinks.

    Despite what you may have heard, the spirit of Massachusetts is NOT the spirit of America.

    If you imposed the laws of the state of Massachusetts onto the rest of America today, half the states would be in open rebellion by tomorrow.

  • Voros McCracken||

    I think there's a good chance the bump in the polls is a response to the issue coming up Federally and that Democrats would be slightly more likely to support it now than before it was such a national lightning rod.

  • tarran||

    The MA economy is in the toilet, and so lots of people are on the states Medicaid program which is pretty good at doling out services.

    I assume that is what is driving the increase in a favorable opinion.

  • Ken Shultz||

    You're absolutely right.

    I suspect the mandate in Massachusetts is much more popular now than it would be otherwise--if the mandate weren't so vocally opposed by Tea Party types and a lightening rod issue.

    My grandaddy used to complain that my grandmother wasn't really hard of hearing--she just wanted him to repeat everything so she could make sure she disagreed with it. It certainly seemed to be the case that him liking something made it more likely that she wouldn't.

    Same thing here. That's another part of why California tilts towards the Democrats. Voters there aren't responding to what the Republicans are saying in California; they're reacting to what Republicans are doing in Arizona and the South.

    I'm sure it's the same way in Massachusetts. The partisans strive to become the caricatures their opponents make them out to be, and if the voters of Massachusetts perceive that Tea Party types are against their individual mandate--then they're gonna be more sure they're for it than they ever were before.

    It isn't just about the mandate. It's about chastising Tea Party types.

  • SFC B||

    How much of the mandate's approval is because anyone who really, REALLY hated it could have moved. It's been around for 7 years. There is no place in Massachusetts which is more than a 3 hour drive from another state.

    If I was a supporter of Obamacare, and I was honest with myself, I don't think I'd be too thrilled that the mandate is polling at 60%ish in one of the most liberal states in the country after it's been in place for that long.

  • anon||

    If you imposed the laws of the state of Massachusetts onto the rest of America today, half the states would be in open rebellion by tomorrow.

    Can we do this please?

  • perlhaqr||

    If you imposed the laws of the state of Massachusetts onto the rest of America today, half the states would be in open rebellion by tomorrow.

    It might be more than half.

    Their stupid ammunition components law would be enough for a lot of people. (Have an empty piece of brass without the right permit? That's a felony!)

  • GroundTruth||

    They didn't poll me! It's worth about 20 points on my blood pressure when I have to turn in that f**king proof of coverage form to my accountant when my taxes are done each year.

  • Spartacus||

    They should also consider the possibility that large numbers of Massholes who *didn't* like the mandate have relocated to New Hampshire (or some other state).

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement