Twitter Is Out to Destroy Obamacare

Photograph by Michael DeLeon

One of the pivotal moments in the never-ending battle over Obamacare came in August 2009, when members of Congress returned home to their districts and confronted waves of angry constituents at town hall meetings. Much of this anger was fomented by conservative groups, but it succeeded in souring—or further souring—many lawmakers on the president’s health-care initiative.

Flash forward five years. Obamacare has passed Congress, survived the Supreme Court, and been ratified by voters, who reelected Obama last November. But conservatives are planning one great, final push to try to kill it. And, as before, a key part of that strategy will be confronting lawmakers at August town hall meetings. (Ex-lawmakers will also play a role: Former Senator Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who now runs the Heritage Foundation, will hold town hall meetings of his own across the country to rally supporters against Obamacare.)

Will rank-and-file conservatives be able to muster the same grassroots fury as before? It’s too soon to say, but one new measure of social-media sentiment suggests there’s a strong possibility that they can. Kantar Media’s CMAG, which also tracks political ads, has developed a Twitter-tracking tool that provides a revealing glimpse of how people are feeling about the health-care law.

Bottom line: Most people hate it. “Conservative critics of President Obama’s signature healthcare law dominated Twitter conversation about the issue for the 30-day period ending August 4,” Elizabeth Wilner of CMAG wrote in an analysis of the newest findings. As this chart reveals, negative sentiment is running about six or seven times stronger than positive sentiment:

One of the biggest drivers of negative sentiment has been Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz (@sentedcruz), who with 108,000 followers, has been more active (at least on Twitter) than Obama and his 35 million followers. That’s likely to continue, since Cruz will be campaigning against the health-care law over the break, including at a Dallas town hall meeting at which DeMint will appear.

CMAG has also broken down Obamacare sentiment by geography. Perhaps not surprisingly, the locus of Obamacare negativity is the Republican South, the area of the country where the president himself is least popular:

For foes of Obamacare, this is encouraging news. But it comes with two big caveats. First, “Twitter sentiment” is not the same thing as “public sentiment”—just compare the rapturous Twitter response to the Syfy movie Sharknado with its lousy ratings. Second, even if conservatives manage to replicate or exceed the anger of August 2009, they haven’t come up with a way to kill the law. It’s a lot easier to stop a law from passing than to repeal it after the fact. DeMint and Cruz are pushing to defund it, and the House may go along, but the Democratic Senate and president surely won’t.

Still, a successful push to repeal the law would need to turn public sentiment sharply against it. In this one area, opponents appear to be doing so. Unless they can expand to other areas, they’ll eventually come to realize, as so many people do—looking at myself here—that for all the attention it gets, Twitter can be a giant waste of time.

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