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Obamacare Scare Won't Frighten Forever

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Joshua Green argues today that, in fact, Obamacare could help Democrats. Greg Sargent, meanwhile, goes deep into recent polls to reveal the complexity of public opinion about heath care.

Both are pointing to what happens once you get beyond the question "Yes or No on Obamacare?" What remains is a long-term, seemingly permanent advantage for Democrats on the general issue of health care. If you ask people whether government should "do more" or "do less" on health care, the liberal argument is going to come out on top with everyone except a small group of seriously ideological conservatives.

Making Obamacare the central issue in health care tends to obscure that Democratic advantage. That may be why Republicans would want to continue to keep the debate going. It also appears that Obamacare motivates Republican voters, for now at least. I've always believed this is arbitrary. Republican voters will always be motivated by whatever issue that Republican politicians, opinion leaders, and party-aligned media choose to emphasize. If the focus switched to Common Core, for example, Republican voters would follow. It's difficult to see them moving away from Obamacare anytime soon, however, given their investment.

Green says that "repealing Obamacare would entail dissolving popular state plans such as Kynect," and "voters are bound to notice and make the connection." Democrats would certainly try to help voters notice. But as long as the conversayion centers on "Yes or No on Obamacare?" Republicans can blame the Affordable Care Act for everything people don't like about health care and health insurance, and claim that they would keep any aspect of the measure that people like.

The only way that might change is if Republicans won control of the government and repealed the ACA. Then, they suddenly would be responsible for taking insurance from a lot of people. That would leave Republicans open to attack, as Democrats are now, for anything else people don't like. That is one of the reasons Republicans would seek to chip away at the law, not repeal it.

Eventually, Obamacare will stop firing up Republican voters, and hating the measure will become just a niche product in the conservative marketplace, and not the entire Republican platform. Although that transition to health care as a normal issue will be tricky for some Republican politicians, it doesn't mean the ACA is an electoral plus for Democrats. It just means the underlying issue of health care is good for them.

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