In a bit of dubious cherry-picking, a new Bloomberg article concludes that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is losing its effectiveness as a political issue for Republicans and is diminishing as a major issue. How do we know the end is near-ish? Well, so many Americans are "benefiting from the law," theorizes Heidi Przybyla, that political ads are simply not doing the job anymore.
This news is somewhat unexpected—and unpersuasive—when you consider that a Kaiser Family Foundation poll recently found that only 15 percent of Americans believe Obamacare has directly helped them, whereas 28 percent say it has directly hurt them. (Fifty-six percent say it has had no effect on their lives.)
Slightly more convincingly, Przybyla offers this bit of evidence: "Republicans seeking to unseat the U.S. Senate incumbent in North Carolina have cut in half the portion of their top issue ads citing Obamacare, a sign that the party's favorite attack against Democrats is losing its punch."
But that's quite an extrapolation, as well—especially when you consider that in her very own story, Przybyla tells us GOP groups have plans to refocus on the ACA as soon as premium increases for 2015 are announced. As with any issue, the political impact of Obamacare is hitched to events surrounding the law. An ebb is not a capitulation. And there will be more Obamacare events.
But even if there weren't, consider that a quarter of political ads running in North Carolina attack Obamacare specifically. This seems to suggest that it's still a comparatively "major issue." Let's put it this way: Is there any other law in the United States that eats up more political space?
Google tells me there isn't. When I use the search engine to wade through news stories regarding the various contested races mentioned in the Bloomberg piece, I find that Obamacare is ubiquitous among Republican candidates—in their stump speeches, in their interviews, on their websites and in their statements. Not so much the Democrats. In Colorado, for example, Republican Cory Gardner is running an ad right now that focuses exclusively on Obamacare and the story of his own family's canceled policies. And as Gardner points out, 335,000 people had their plans canceled in the state—a state where Quinnipiac found that 60 percent of voters oppose the ACA, with 68 percent of independents, 53 percent of women, and 61 percent of people younger than 30.
You know, perhaps focusing 50 percent of your ad dollars on the ACA isn't necessary anyway. It's rather amazing how little the electorate has moved on the issue. According to Kaiser, 53 percent of Americans disapprove of Obamacare. And among independents, 57 percent disapprove. Looks a lot like the way it's looked for years. Whether voters are interested in repealing the law or not, there is no other issue with higher disapproval rates. In my lifetime, I can't recall any domestic law that's been chewed over, litigated, debated, and used as a political hammer this intensely this long after passage.
As The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza pointed out a few months back, in New York Times/Kaiser polling on four Southern Senate races, voters were asked, "Is it possible you would ever vote for a candidate who does not share your views on the 2010 health care law, or is this issue so important that you would not vote for a candidate who disagrees with you?" In North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and Kentucky, majorities said they would not.
The distress over the law is embedded into the debate. It was inevitable that Republicans would expand their attacks beyond Obamacare. With the economy, immigration, or energy—and the array of more customized themes that state races typically focus on—there seems to be plenty of fodder for battleground candidates. Yet the idea that Obamacare's potency as a Republican issue is on the verge of expiration is a lingering wish that will never come to pass. And if you've heard about the Obamacare retreat before, it's because it's nothing new. Politico led the way with a story in 2013, "GOP quietly backing away from Obamacare," and similar predictions of the pending surrender on the ACA go back years. Yet here we are.