When the Republican-controlled House passed the American Health Care Act last month, GOP members hurried to the White House for a celebratory press event with President Trump.
Those smiles will turn to frowns when Republicans get a look at new numbers on the AHCA in a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
The poll is full of bad news for Republicans as it relates to their ongoing attempts to overhaul the country’s healthcare system. But, the one number that stood out to me was this: Just 8% of respondents said they want the Senate to pass the same bill that cleared the House. Eight percent!
A majority of people either said the Senate should “make major changes” (26%) to the House bill or not pass the bill at all (29%).
There are other numbers in the poll – 55% have an unfavorable view of the GOP healthcare law compared to 31% who view it favorably, 75% think the legislation makes good on either none or only some of President Trump’s promises – that suggest the AHCA, unless the Senate can pull a rabbit out of a hat, could be a major anchor weighing down Republicans in 2018.
This will feel like deja vu for close watchers of Congress and Congressional elections. The 2010 midterms, which delivered Republicans control of the House, was, functionally, a referendum on President Obama’s healthcare law. Four years later, the botched rollout of the law cost Democrats again.
The reason healthcare is so consistently such a powerful voting issue is simple: It touches everyone in the country on a regular basis.
Things like the debt ceiling or campaign finance are sort of esoteric concepts to the average person. They don’t come into contact with them on a daily basis.
Not so health care – which confronts you every time you or a loved one goes to pick up a prescription, see a doctor or has to make a trip to the emergency room.
Health care is deeply personal. And making changes to anything that is so deeply personal – and ubiquitous – comes with massive political peril.
Republicans seemed convinced that the consistent unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act – particularly within their base – made scrapping major parts of the law a political no-brainer.
But, as the Kaiser poll shows, changing something people are used to – even if they don’t love it – is far harder than it looks. It’s the “devil you know versus the devil you don’t” argument. And the devil you know almost always wins that one.
Even as the AHCA’s unpopularity has soared, the ACA has grown more popular. Forty nine percent now view Obamacare favorably while 42 percent regard it unfavorably. And, when it comes to intensity, the ACA has the edge as well. Forty percent(!) have a “very” unfavorable view of the AHCA while 29% feel that away about the ACA; just 12% feel “very” favorably about the AHCA, less than half the 29% of people who say the same of the ACA.
Intensity of feelings about major voting issues tends to be one of the key indicators of base excitement. Judging from these Kaiser numbers, the Democratic base is strongly energized by their dislike of this bill while Republicans are far less invigorated. (Just 67% of Republicans had a favorable view of the AHCA.)
These numbers suggest that Republicans’ fate in the 2018 midterms could well depend on what Senate GOPers do with the healthcare legislation. One thing is crystal clear: Simply passing the House bill would be a political death sentence.