With Republican attacks on Obamacare's awful rollout intensifying, two new polls illustrate just how much pressure Democrats will feel in coming days to seriously distance themselves from the law. But the polls also illustrate, paradoxically, why they shouldn't, and almost certainly won't.
The crux of the polls' findings: Disapproval of the law and the president is soaring — but key elements of the Democratic coalition still think it can be made to work, and overwhelmingly oppose repeal.
A Tuesday Washington Post/ABC News poll is brutal to President Barack Obama and his signature domestic achievement. Sixty-three percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of it. Only 40 percent support the law, versus 57 percent who oppose it. Only 34 percent support the individual mandate, and 71 percent support delaying it. The administration's rollout of the law was an epic, unforgiveable failure, so it's not surprising public disapproval is skyrocketing. That's as it should be.
However — and this is key — the public remains divided, at 49-49, on whether the government can ultimately get the law working or whether it is unworkable.
Crucially, majorities of the core Democratic constituencies think it can still be made to work: 69 percent of non-whites; 56 percent of young voters; 59 percent of moderates; 51 percent of women; and 52 percent of college graduates (college-educated whites, especially women, are an increasingly important part of the new Democratic coalition) all think the law can recover.
This pattern is mirrored in a new National Journal poll. It finds a slim majority of 52 percent thinks the law will do more to hurt the health system than to help it. But it also finds that only a small minority, 38 percent, support repealing the law. Majorities of all the core Democratic groups — minorities, young voters, and college-educated whites — still support the law, and tilt overwhelmingly against repeal. Only two groups support repeal: Republicans, and non-college whites.
As the National Journal's Ron Brownstein notes: "Congressional Democrats inclined to distance themselves from the law in the hope of placating skeptical independent or Republican-leaning voters face the risk of alienating some of their core supporters."
At a moment of unrelentingly awful press for the law, a basic dynamic that has been in place for years, one that many commentators simply refuse to acknowledge, is still holding: Majorities disapprove of Obamacare, but disapproval does not translate into majority support for scrapping or eliminating it entirely — particularly among core Democratic constituencies.
There is no minimizing the challenge the White House faces. High disapproval may make congressional Democrats more skittish, and there is intense pressure on the White House to show public impressions can be changed, by making the law work over time. Whether the administration can or will do this remains unknown.
As Brian Beutler at Salon spells out, things may get still worse, making it excruciatingly difficult for Democrats to weather the political downturn. But if they hang in there, the end result could be massively expanded coverage by the time Obama leaves office. The alternative — abandoning the law — is tantamount to telling voters to give up on the Democratic Party. Core Democratic constituencies are not giving up on the law, and neither should congressional Democrats.
© 2013 Washington Post