Cry me a river...
Next month will mark five years since the Affordable Care Act became law. Obamacare was supposed to be popular by now, but it's not. And as far as President Obama and the Democrats who passed it are concerned, the law's current approval rating might be as good as it gets. That could be a serious problem for the party in 2016.
The most recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll on Obamacare, released last week, shows that 40 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the law, while 46 percent have an unfavorable opinion and the rest don't know or won't say. There have been some slight ups and downs over the years, but public opinion seems pretty set: A plurality of Americans has disapproved of Obamacare virtually since the day it was passed.
The basic problem is that Barack Obama promised his healthcare plan would benefit everybody. It doesn't. Under Obamacare, the government subsidizes the health coverage of some Americans while making it more expensive for others. People who have faced higher premiums, higher deductibles, and narrower choices of doctors know they're getting a bad deal.
Obamacare was designed to win the loyalty of a large number of Americans by offering subsidies not just to the lowest-income bracket but also to those with an income of over $90,000 a year for a family of four. But a lot of middle-class people aren't feeling much benefit.
So it is no surprise that the only group of Americans who like Obamacare in the latest Kaiser poll are those who make less than $40,000 a year — and even they aren't all that enthusiastic about it. Forty-two percent of Americans in that income range have a favorable opinion of Obamacare, while 38 percent have an unfavorable opinion and 19 percent don't know.
There is pretty intense disapproval in the next bracket up, those Americans making between $40,000 and $90,000 a year — a group that supposedly would benefit from Obamacare. A solid 57 percent have an unfavorable opinion of the law, while 33 percent have a favorable opinion and ten percent don't know.
People with incomes above $90,000 have an unfavorable opinion of Obamacare that's pretty much the same as the public's overall.
Another way of looking at how few people have benefited from Obamacare is this question from Kaiser: "So far, would you say the healthcare law has directly helped you and your family, directly hurt you and your family, or has it not had a direct impact?" Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed say Obamacare has not had a direct impact on them. But of those who have been affected, 16 percent say they have been helped, while 25 percent say they have been hurt. How can a law like that be broadly popular?
In recent months Democratic strategists have become very nervous about their prospects with white working class and middle class voters who have been abandoning the party in the Obama years. As the liberal analyst John B. Judis, writing in a new article, "The Emerging Republican Advantage," in National Journal explains, those groups have long distrusted government's ability and inclination to do much for them. For example, Judis notes that studies of middle class voters have "found that those with college but not postgrad degrees exhibited more marked opposition than any other educational grouping to government spending, and to policies that promised to redistribute income from the rich to the poor."
That's Obamacare. "In 2010 — angry about Obama's stimulus program and believing that the Affordable Care Act had cost too much without truly benefiting them — [middle class voters] once again began returning to the Republican camp," Judis writes.
Democrats have already paid a pretty high political price, losing control of the House in 2010 and the Senate last year. But the price-paying is probably not over.
Of course President Obama will continue to defend Obamacare until he leaves office and beyond. Hillary Clinton, should she be the Democratic nominee in 2016, will perhaps be more flexible in implementing the law, or more open to tweaking it, but on the most fundamental level will be stuck defending it.
Meanwhile, middle class voters will probably have the same opinion of Obamacare when they go to the polls on Nov. 8, 2016, as they do today. Of course other factors will play a role in those voters' decisions, but Obamacare will be part of it.
In the new poll, Kaiser asked whether voters are "tired of hearing about the debate over the healthcare law and think the country should focus more on other issues" or whether they "think it is important for the country to continue the debate over the healthcare law." Fifty percent of those polls want the debate to continue, while 45 percent are tired of it.
That means the debate will go on, and not in the Democrats' favor.