ObamaCare: Political Trouble for Moderate Democrats?


As Democrats pushed to pass the health care overhaul, many seemed to be operating under the theory that the low popularity of the legislation would quickly turn around after passage. The idea being peddled by top Democrats was that, by the time election day rolled around, the law would become a political winner. Just recently, Politico provided a handy roundup of quotes from Democratic bigwigs predicting the PPACA's quick political success. Just days before passage, for example, White House communications staffer Dan Pfieffer told The New York Times that "if and when this is passed, Democrats will run aggressively on this." Around the same time, President Obama's lead pollster wrote in The Washington Post that  "when it comes to health care and insurance, once reform passes, the tangible benefits Americans will realize will trump the fear-mongering rhetoric opponents are stoking today." Former President Bill Clinton told Netroots Nation that "the minute the president signs the health care reform bill, approval will go up." "

Approval didn't go up. Instead, the law has proven consistently unpopular, with a very slight trend toward increased disapproval over the past several months. And now it looks like Democrats who bucked their party and voted against the legislation are doing pretty well at the polls. National Journal's Josh Kraushaar crunched the numbers and found that "Democrats who opposed the bill are in surprisingly decent shape, given the lousy political environment." Meanwhile, the coalition of moderate Democrats who played key, last-minute roles in ensuring that the law would pass are faring far worse:

The picture is not so bright for the Democrats who went along with the White House. Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., a founding member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs, never faced a close race in his 14-year congressional career. But after he flipped his position from opposing to supporting the president's health care bill—one of eight Democrats to do so—he barely survived his own primary. Now, his prospects for reelection are dim.

Of the eight who flipped their votes to support the bill, two announced their retirement (Bart Gordon andBrian Baird) and five others are in tough races. The other is Dennis Kucinich, who initially opposed the bill because it didn't have a public option.

Indeed, House Democrats who gave the decisive margin at the end—the so-called Stupak bloc, who held out their support until anti-abortion language was inserted and those who flipped their votes to support the bill—read like a who's who of the most at-risk Democrats.

Would some of those Democrats have been doing better had they voted against the bill? Obviously we'll never get to examine the counterfactual. And the dismal condition of the overall economy would have been a factor in determining voter mood and preference no matter what the result of the health care vote. Either way, though, at this point it's pretty clear that, at the least, that Democrats who thought the law would eventually give them a boost at the polls were fooling themselves.

I argued back in February that passing the law wasn't likely to make it more popular.