By now even diehard opponents of the Affordable Care Act are growing to accept that enrollment numbers have far exceeded expectations, and that taking on the President and his signature health law will require a new strategy. And for the first time in years, that strategy may not involve calls for repeal.
The possibility that Republicans may abandon the repeal-or-nothing approach is not founded in any acceptance that the ACA has provided health insurance to 8 million Americans through the federal exchange and millions more through Medicaid – it's about polling.
Recent polls suggests that as the ACA has become more popular nationwide, and especially in Republican districts, there may be less for Republicans to gain by sticking to their usual obstructionist strategy. Instead, they might actually have to offer ways to improve it.
Read why after the jump.The ACA is actually becoming more popular in red districts around the country. A recent poll from Democracy Corps found that 52 percent of respondents in battleground districts wanted to “implement and fix” the ACA, while 42 percent wanted to “repeal and replace” it. In December, the numbers were 49 and 45 percent respectively. In Republican districts, 43 percent of respondents say the ACA “goes too far,” down from 48 percent in December. And Democratic districts are heading towards majority-support status for the first time, suggesting that Democrats may be less inclined to run away from the law in campaigns than they once were.
A new Politico poll which “spells danger for Democrats” also finds that “even among likely voters in the competitive races, keep/modify polls slightly better than repeal.” Oddly enough, while the ACA will likely hurt Democrats in the midterms, attempts to repeal the law may also hurt Republicans. A prominent Republican pollster has gone so far as to predict that Republicans will fundamentally shift how they talk about the ACA. “After the primaries, expect a shift in Republican candidates' rhetoric against Obamacare,” said Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies. “Only few want to repeal the law; most want to fix and keep it.”
Though the polls point to gradual acceptance and growing support of the ACA, perceptions of the law are still largely colored by the tainted “Obamacare” brand, which may take years to improve. A recent poll in Kentucky found that voters were much less likely to support the ACA when it was referred to as “Obamacare” than when asked about its individual components. When Kentucky voters were asked about kynect, the state health insurance exchange, 29 percent had a favorable impression, 22 percent had an unfavorable one, and most didn't know or weren't sure. Meanwhile, 57 percent had unfavorable views of Obamacare, compared to 33 percent who had favorable impressions. One of the pollsters explained, “Call it something else, and the negatives drop.”
We can still expect quite a bit of anti-Obamacare rhetoric leading into the midterm elections. But for perhaps the first time, the opposition may have to be more qualified, nuanced and constructive.