Another day, another highly eeyorish poll result that may or may not have been affected by questionable question phrasing. Yesterday it was Politico’s survey on “comprehensive immigration reform,” today it’s Gallup polling the top issues for the midterms. The good news for the GOP: They’re ahead on the public’s perennial top priority, the economy. The bad news: ObamaCare seemingly isn’t the liability it once was.
The Affordable Care Act is above-average in terms of importance to both parties, as you would expect. What you might not expect, given the intensity of GOP opposition, is that slightly more Democrats consider it important than Republicans do. You also might not expect that more people say Democrats would do a better job with the ACA than Republicans would — and that the Dems’ lead on that is also above-average compared to issues. Proof positive that Obama’s victory lap after they hit eight million enrollments really has restored public confidence in O-Care? Maybe not, but at a minimum, it may corroborate other polls showing that only a minority of the public wants to repeal the law; most prefer to make either minor or major repairs to the existing structure. It stands to reason that if you want to see the law kept in place and fixed, you’re going to trust the party that passed it to do so marginally more than the party that’s been vowing to tear the whole thing down for the past four years. If any (or all) of that is true, then we’re looking at a weird situation in the midterms where the GOP is running mainly on an issue that favors Democrats, i.e. ObamaCare, while Democrats are essentially running on an issue that favors the GOP, i.e. the economy. Their income inequality message is double-barreled: Part of it is simple class warfare, that redistribution is only fair, but the other part is that greater wealth-sharing ultimately means a stronger middle class and that in turn means economic growth and new jobs. The first part of that is working for them, per the results above, but not the second. And the second is where most of the electoral benefits are to be had.
Conn Carroll asks a good question, though:
— Conn Carroll (@conncarroll) May 20, 2014
Phrasing does matter here. Gallup itself reported back in November that they get different results when polling on O-Care depending upon whether they mention Obama in the question and whether they refer to the law as the “Affordable Care Act” or as “ObamaCare.” The best numbers for the law come when you strip O out of it entirely; the worst results come when you call it “ObamaCare.” Guess which phrase GOP attack ads this fall are going to use. Using the broader term “health care” might also have affected the numbers, as Conn suggests, simply because that term doesn’t assume that the ACA will remain in place the way a question that refers specifically to the ACA tacitly does. If Gallup had opened up the Overton window more here, they might have gotten a more pro-GOP result. Or … they might not: This isn’t the only poll lately to show Democrats with a lead on health care, even when you use the phrase “health care.” And that probably has less to do with America falling in love with ObamaCare (which it isn’t) than with the GOP’s refusal to enthusiastically back an alternative plan. Rhetorically, the party is almost entirely “repeal” and no “replace.” If you’re going to make this issue a referendum on repeal and the public’s no longer gung ho for repeal, it’s no surprise that Democrats come out ahead.
Luckily for us, national polls like this matter very little to red-state battlegrounds like Louisiana and North Carolina, where Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan still have to figure out a way to win. But I do think it helps explain why Boehner’s suddenly decided that a Benghazi committee is a good summer project: The party’s not quite as invested in beating the O-Care drum as it was last fall. Exit question via Carroll: The GOP’s still going to try to stop Obama’s illegal taxpayer bailout for O-Care insurers, isn’t it?