Most Americans want politicians to make the Affordable Care Act work, a Pew Research study found. But more Republicans see the ACA as “very important” to their midterm vote. (More)

Poll Vaulting, Part II: The ACA and the Midterms

This week Morning Feature jumps around public opinion polls on various issues. Yesterday we began with a Pew Research poll on the characteristics voters want and don’t want in a presidential candidate. Today we look at Pew’s polling on the Affordable Care Act and how midterm voters weigh the ACA. Saturday we’ll conclude with Pew’s look at millennials entering adulthood.

“Here to stay”

Opposition to Obamacare at all-time high,” the Weekly Standard screamed as Pew Research released their latest poll on the Affordable Care Act. The actual result was a bit less dramatic:

Views of ACA Little Changed. As other recent national polls have shown, including the April health care tracking survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the recent surge in signups for the new health care exchanges has had little impact on public opinion about the Affordable Care Act.

Yes, the survey found that 55% disapproved of the ACA, but that was within the margin of error of the 53% who disapproved back in March, and in the March poll a majority of those who disliked the ACA still wanted their elected leaders to make the law work.

Pew didn’t ask that question in the May poll, but they did ask whether people thought major provisions of the ACA would be repealed. The results were good for the ACA, and bad for Republicans:

When asked about the health care law’s future, 49% of Americans say they think the law’s major provisions are probably “here to stay” while 43% say they probably will be eliminated. As expected, opinions about the law’s fate are linked to underlying views of the ACA. Still, about a quarter of the law’s supporters (27%) say its major provisions may be eliminated, while 67% say they are probably “here to stay.” Conversely, a third of ACA opponents (36%) say key aspects of the law will likely remain in place; 55% expect them to be eliminated.

The March poll found that racial minorities, women, young voters, college graduates, and those with family incomes under $30,000 were most likely to support the ACA. Whites, men, seniors, voters with only high school diplomas, and those with family incomes over $75,000 were most likely to oppose it.

For midterms, ACA is “Very Important” … to Republicans

An April Pew Research poll found that the ACA’s opponents weigh the law more heavily in their midterm voting:

In looking ahead to this fall’s elections, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to view a candidate’s position on the Affordable Care Act as very important to their vote. A new national survey finds that 64% of Republican registered voters say a candidate’s stance on the health care law will be very important in their voting decision, compared with 52% of Democrats and 45% of independents.
[…]
Six-in-ten (60%) voters who oppose the health care law say that a candidate’s stance on the health care law will be very important to their vote, compared with about half (48%) of voters who support the law.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise. The ACA’s opponents are losing and that triggers the endowment effect, as we saw in our discussion of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow:

We also see the endowment effect at work in reform efforts. Whether government or business or a family, changing the rules will create winners and losers. If the reform is worthwhile, the wins are greater than the losses, in numbers of people and/or the significance of the benefits and losses. But the would-be losers will weigh their losses more heavily than the would-be winners weigh their potential benefits. The would-be losers will usually work harder to block the reform than the would-be winners will work to enact it, and most reform efforts fail or are at best incomplete … because “Losing feels worse than winning feels good.”

Different lenses

Pew’s April survey found the ACA’s supporters and opponents see the law through entirely different lenses.

Among supporters, 86% cited expanding coverage to the uninsured as a “major reason” to back the ACA, and 84% cited ensuring coverage to those with preexisting conditions. Another 68% cited lower overall health care costs, and 46% cited improving their own coverage as “major reasons.”

Among opponents, 80% cited “too much government involvement in health care” as a “major reason” to oppose the ACA, 76% cited “too expensive for the country,” 58% the “requirement that all have health insurance,” and 57% a fear that their “own health care may suffer.”

“A vote against the president”

Republicans’ fear of the ACA combines with an uneven economic recovery to create midterm challenges for Democrats. Pew’s April survey found 47% of voters committed to or leaning toward Republicans, versus only 43% committed to or leaning toward Democrats. In April 2006 Democrats led on that question by 51-41, and in March 2010 the two parties were tied at 44%.

Republicans are also more motivated to block President Obama than Democrats are to support him:

While a majority of voters (54%) say that Barack Obama will not be a factor in their vote this fall, more (26%) see their vote as a vote against the president than for him (16%). In February 2010, 24% of voters saw their vote as for Obama while about as many (20%) considered it a vote against him.

And 59% of Republicans said they’re voting this year to determine which party controls Congress. Only 52% of Democrats said that will be a factor in their midterm votes.

Top priority: Jobs … except among Republicans

Jobs are the top priority for voters overall (48%), and recent unemployment reports aren’t changing their views of the job market:

From the public’s point of view, jobs remain scarce: 65% say jobs in their community are difficult to find while 27% say there are plenty of jobs available. Since the recession, perceptions of the job market have become less negative as the unemployment rate has declined. However, there has been virtually no change in these views since last June (64% jobs hard to find), although the jobless rate has fallen by more than a percentage point (from 7.5% to 6.3%) since then.

But Republican voters rate jobs only third on their priorities, with only 42% making it a top priority, behind the budget deficit (46%) and health care (44%). Democratic voters’ top priorities were jobs (55%), health care (43%), and education (42%), with only 27% rating the budget deficit a top priority.

These polls aren’t pretty, but they do offer small rays of hope. Democratic voters are more in-synch with voters overall, both on the ACA and on the top priorities for 2014. We need to energize our voters, and to independent voters who may be tempted to sit out the midterms.

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Happy Friday!