While the landmark health care law is having a huge impact on our health care system, but its political impact faded long ago.
A fun Twitter fight broke out yesterday after political analyst Charlie Cook declared that everything would have been fine for the Democrats right now if they had never passed Obamacare back in 2010 and instead “focused on the economy” (whatever that means).
Jonathan Bernstein saved us all a lot of time, effort, and rage Tweeting by summing up why this argument is totally wrong:
Cook is right that the relatively weak economic recovery led to the 2010 and 2014 Republican triumphs.
Although having a Democrat in the White House was the main reason.
Yes, Obama might have done better on the economy with better policies, even given Republican rejectionism.
But the “focus on the economy” point (as opposed to success on the economy) is mostly bogus.
Obama’s approval fell steadily after he took office, starting in the first months when he and Congress were focused on the economy.
The stimulus package, Detroit bailout and other Obama efforts galvanized the Tea Party and ended any Republican approval for the new president.
Democrats in the White House and Congress kept working on the economy after that.
Obama sent the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill to Congress in June 2009, and they both worked on it for the next year. That’s about the economy!
Obamacare is about the economy, too. Health security is a big part of economic security. It is mostly working as intended.
Health-care reform was a longtime Democratic priority and central to Obama’s 2008 campaign; ignoring it would have had costs.
So why the midterm defeats? That’s what happens to the party in the White House.
Ronald Reagan (who had a terrible recession) and Bill Clinton (who had a weak recovery from a recession) both had about the same approval ratings at their first midterms as Obama did.
Then both recovered strongly when the economy went into high gear.
Of course, Reagan’s party was clobbered in the 1982 and 1986 midterms anyway. It’s what happens.
A final point: Austerity policies championed by Republicans, and carried out largely against Obama’s preferences, slowed the recovery — and hurt the Democrats in 2012 and 2014.
That’s all exactly right. Or to put it another way, there’s no evidence that Obamacare impacted the 2014 elections because Republicans themselves, unlike in 2010 or 2012, largely ignored the law in their campaign rhetoric.
The common response to these sorts of argument is that the term “Obamacare” tends to poll badly, which is true. The problem with this argument is that there’s absolutely no evidence that significant chunks of the American electorate are actually motivated by hatred of one specific law as opposed to being motivated by things like partisan affinity or the tendency of the electorate to vote against the President’s party in midterm elections. Instead the causal effect probably goes in the opposite direction. That is to say Republican political leaders talk about why they don’t like Obamacare and so Republican voters take their cues from them and respond to pollsters by telling them that they don’t like Obamacare.
We saw the same type of phenomenon back when lots of Americans kept claiming in polls for years that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 even after that claim had been totally debunked. Those folks were probably just following partisan cues left over from the Bush Administrations rush to war.
Our modern understanding of statistics and how random samples can be used to represent populations as a whole allows us to be able to do some pretty cool things. It wouldn’t be hard at all to figure how computer ownership differs in different groups in Mississippi according to annual income, race, and geographic location via a pretty basic telephone survey. But the fact that we can do that doesn’t necessarily give us any greater insight into why voters do what they do.
The reality is that the vast majority of last week’s election results are explainable via historic trends like which party is in the White House and Presidential approval. Health care policy had very little to do with it, and an alternative scenario where Obama did nothing on health care back in 2009 and 2010 would probably have resulted in very similar outcomes last week (assuming that alternate Obama won reelection)
If that had happened though, pundits surely would be writing articles about how things would have been so much better for the Democrats if only Obama hadn’t been a coward and followed through with his promises on health care all those years back.
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