Right now, congressional Republicans are in about the best possible position on health care: They showed that they can pass something (anything!) in the House, and now no one is paying any attention to it any more.
It’s unlikely, though, that the Senate will end up doing nothing with the American Health Care Act, the Republican bill that passed the House earlier this month. Meaning that the party will again have to grapple with a complicated, deeply unpopular bill that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office figures will mean 23 million fewer people with health insurance in 10 years’ time.
New survey data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, though, serves as a reminder that pushing forward with the legislation could be politically problematic well past this year.
Only Republicans have a broadly favorable view of the legislation, with two-thirds of them holding that position. Democrats and independents, on net, view the AHCA more unfavorably than favorably. Only about 3-in-10 overall view it positively.
By contrast, nearly 50 percent of respondents held a positive view of the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare) — the legislation that the AHCA would replace. Three-in-10 hold strongly favorable views of Obamacare; 4-in-10 hold strongly negative views of the AHCA.
And that’s why the AHCA’s unpopularity is so problematic.
Obamacare is about as popular now as it has been at any point since its inception in 2010. Generally, opinions have been pretty consistently split, with about half the country viewing it negatively and half positively. The percent viewing it favorably now, though, is seven points higher than those viewing it unfavorably, one of the widest margins in the foundation’s polling.
Those views are not universally held, though. By party, there’s a distinct split.
If that graph looks familiar to you, it’s because it strongly mirrors approval ratings for the man behind the name Obamacare, Barack Obama.
There’s a different scale there; Democrats like Obama more than Obamacare. But the pattern is the same: A broad partisan gulf, with favorable views rising among Democrats and independents over the last few years of Obama’s time in office.
So far, we’re seeing a similar split in partisan views of Donald Trump. Republicans view him very positively and Democrats very negatively, without much movement up or down among either group.
So if the AHCA were passed and partisan views of it held in the way that views of Obamacare did? Congressional Republicans would be passing legislation that starts out less popular than Obamacare and which will likely be mired in the same partisan trenches over the length of its existence. Sure, they’ll say, people will come to like the improved health-care plan that is much better than Obamacare. To which there’s an easy response: As more people got coverage under Obamacare, views of the program didn’t move much. It was only when the risk to Obamacare from Republican control of Washington emerged that the program became popular on net — but even now, it’s only barely above water.
There is one key difference. A number of polls over the course of the last eight years determined that “the Affordable Care Act” was more popular than “Obamacare” — indicating that views of the legislation were a function of partisan views of Obama himself. Perhaps views of the AHCA will be separated from views of Trump. After all, three-quarters of respondents in the foundation’s poll figured that none or only some of Trump’s campaign pledges made it into the AHCA itself. His ownership of it is less obvious.
Oh, and there’s another key difference: It has to pass. With poll numbers like these, that should certainly not be considered a certainty.