Obamacare on Voters’ Minds

Member Group : Salena Zito

President Barack Obama took a victory lap the day that the Affordable Care Act purportedly hit its target because, the argument goes, everyone had beaten the stuffing out of him over his administration’s disastrous implementation of the law.

You can’t really blame him, the argument contends.

This is not the first time a president has expressed a rather unpresidential amount of glee over a personal vindication of sorts. Sometimes such arrogance goes unchecked; sometimes it gets checked off in the ballot box.

Historically in Washington, presidential hubris is viewed as an entitlement of the office – although outside Washington, where the view is not seen through the confines of the political bubble, it usually rubs people the wrong way.

In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 57 percent of voters said they disapprove of how the president handled it all. The poll also showed that his approval rating is down to 41 percent; 52 percent disapprove of his performance, and 6 percent have absolutely no opinion of him at all.

The numbers for Obamacare in the survey are equally staggering: A majority of respondents said the law’s implementation has been worse than they expected, the cost of health care is increasing rather than decreasing, and the quality of care is getting worse rather than better.

Some Democrats insist they are seeing Obamacare lessen as a boat-anchor on their political fortunes. In the isolation of their cloakrooms that may seem to be the case, but what they fail to understand is that Obamacare, at its core, is an economic problem.

The evidence of that became apparent last week when America’s gross domestic product (GDP), the most comprehensive measure of services across the economy, dramatically slowed in 2014’s first quarter to 0.1 percent, one of the weakest movements in the five-year recovery under this administration.

It was not a slowdown created in a vacuum. And it wasn’t just bad winter weather that caused this stunning grind; constant news reports of January, February and March, detailing Obamacare’s impact on the middle class, strongly contributed to the economy’s lack of growth.

People know something that political strategists have failed to calculate: Policy cancellations, premium increases and plan changes are not finished; they’re just getting started, and their impact will roll through the country all summer.

Many people, who haven’t seen any increases yet, eventually will – and they will be floored when they discover how much health care will cost.

Don’t think that won’t affect their votes in the fall.

So, as Democrats run on disparaging the Koch brothers, dividing us by class, gender and race, or promoting equal pay, abortion and contraception, they fail to understand that it always has been about the economy and the impact their policies have on the middle class.

And what of Republicans? Will they do any better, if and when they hold all of the power?

Hard to tell. Democrats promised transparency, changing the status quo, being the party of the people, and bringing us all together under a different tone in politics.

Whining about taking tough votes doesn’t really help Republicans’ image; neither does running wackadoodle primary candidates or drawing great lines in the sand before compromising on every issue. Problem-solving and reform are a much more appealing platform to adopt.

Americans historically have been willing to accept somewhat poorly administered governance as long as it is seen as intended to further legitimate goals supported by the majority.

Republicans should be aware of this. There is a danger in simply running on a promise of better management; doing so can allow your opponent to determine the parameters of the status quo to be managed, or it can leave one hopelessly offering to better-manage a status quo no longer supported by the majority.

Six months is an eternity in politics, another argument goes, and Democrats have plenty of time to recover politically – to make a dent in the Republicans’ numbers in the House, to hold their own majority in the Senate. But that argument is likely to prove weak this time around because of two things: Obama and Obamacare.

It doesn’t help that every presidential pivot on the economy has proven to be just politics, not policy.

Salena Zito
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Political Reporter