Can Mitt Romney Capitalize on Public Opposition to ObamaCare?


A Washington Post poll released today asked respondents whether, overall, they have a "favorable or unfavorable impression of Mitt Romney's proposal to repeal the federal law making changes in the the health care system." Predictably, self-described Republicans reported highly favorable views and Democrats reported highly negative views. What was interesting was that while independents were somewhat more evenly divided, 47 percent responded that they held unfavorable views of Romney's repeal proposal while just 33 percent responded favorably.

So does this mean that independents don't want to see ObamaCare struck down? I doubt it, because the result doesn't match other polls. But it could mean that independents won't support Mitt Romney in repealing the law.

Much has been made of the health care overhaul's unpopularity amongst independents, so if independents really had shifted to favor the law, that would be big news. But there's not much reason to think that's the case. Most polls have consistently shown that between 35 and 40 percent of independents support the law. The most recent edition of the Kaiser health tracking poll, a monthly survey of views on health policy, reported in April that just 39 percent of independents support the law. There are swings in support — in January, for example, only 30 percent of independents responded favorably, while in February and March 40 percent said they held positive opinions about the law. But in general, independent support for the law has remained stuck roughly in the high 30s since the summer of 2010.

More to the point, Kaiser's April survey also shows that independents have no problem with seeing the law struck from the books entirely: 18 percent said they'd be enthusiastic about seeing the whole law struck down by the Supreme Court; 34 percent said they would be satisfied with that result, though not enthusiastic. That's 52 percent of independents who would be basically pleased with seeing the entire law struck down, compared with just 42 percent who said they would be either disappointed or angry. This is not a group of people either generally supportive of the health law or broadly opposed to the possibility that it might be taken down.

So what gives? Obviously there's no way to be sure, but the Post's poll frames the question in a slightly odd way. Rather than ask about support for the law, or generalized support for repeal, it asks respondents for their impression of "Mitt Romney's proposals to repeal the federal law making changes in the health care system." My guess is that framing it as "Mitt Romney's plan" makes it less appealing, especially since we already know that Romney is running slightly behind Obama in terms of overall approval on health care issues.

The upshot here isn't that independents suddenly don't oppose ObamaCare. It's that Mitt Romney may not be able to capitalize on longstanding opposition to the law by those who consider themselves independents.

Thanks to Scott Winship of Brookings for pointing out the Post's survey question.