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Health Care Reminder: The True Power of the Bully Pulpit

With the Supreme Court likely to decide on the Affordable Care Act next Monday, Pew Research has a poll of voters’ reactions to some of the possible rulings. As expected there is a huge partisan divide, with Republicans wanting the whole law thrown out and Democrats wanting the whole law kept. What I find amazing is that a majority of Democrats would be unhappy if the Court only threw out the individual mandate but kept all the “good” provisions. From Pew:

But the other widely discussed possibility – that the court could reject the part of the law that requires individuals to have health insurance while keeping the rest – does not satisfy either side. Among Democrats, 35% would be happy with this outcome, while 56% would be unhappy. Republicans, who have consistently opposed the individual mandate, are not much happier: 43% would be happy if the court strips only this provision, while 47% would be unhappy.

For many partisans, only an “all or nothing” outcome will be acceptable. Four-in-ten (40%) Republicans say they will be happy only if the entire law is overturned, while another 29% would be happy with either overturning the entire law or just the mandate. Conversely, 39% of Democrats say they will be happy only if the entire law is upheld, while 17% would be happy with either keeping the entire law or removing the mandate but keeping the other elements.

It is amazing that the Democratic base claims they would be unhappy with getting everything they supposedly wanted from the new law (subsidies, ban on recession, ban on pre-existing conditions, Medicaid expansion) just because the Court eliminated only the highly unpopular individual mandate.

It is important to remember that exactly four years ago then candidate Obama was running against the idea of an individual mandate. The individual mandate to purchase private insurance was a traditional, Republican/Conservative idea opposed by many Democrats and liberals (who presumably preferred more universal public programs). The Court striking down only the mandate would actually make the Affordable Care Act more, not less, like the health care reform program Obama originally promised. Yet apparently making the law more like the health care program Obama promised would still leave most Democrats unhappy.

The mandate went from something Obama said he strongly opposed, to something Obama said he reluctantly supported to get a deal, to an essential element of the law Obama is desperately trying to protect at any cost. In their Court argument, his Administration even put the ban on pre-existing conditions and community rating in serious danger of being thrown out as well to strengthen the legal case for the mandate.

Apparently not only has Obama’s position on the mandate shifted radically, but he has managed to shift the bulk of his base’s opinion of the mandate with it. Obama’s shift and the partisan nature of this fight has caused base Democrats to develop a frankly bizarre attachment to the individual mandate.

This is a reminder of the true power of the bully pulpit. A President’s position can’t sway the whole country, but it can have a huge power to sway the President’s base. We saw similar dynamics with support among Obama’s base for the Libya war and same-sex marriage going up significantly after he spoke out in favor of them. A president can easily get his own base to become invested in a particular position, even if just a few years ago the same president’s campaign was spending millions running ads saying it was a bad idea.

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Health Care Reminder: The True Power of the Bully Pulpit

With the Supreme Court likely to decide on the Affordable Care Act next Monday, Pew Research has a poll of voters’ reactions to some of the possible rulings. As expected there is a huge partisan divide, with Republicans wanting the whole law thrown out and Democrats wanting the whole law kept.  What I find amazing is that a majority of Democrats would be unhappy if the Court only threw out the individual mandate but kept all the “good” provisions. From Pew:

But the other widely discussed possibility – that the court could reject the part of the law that requires individuals to have health insurance while keeping the rest – does not satisfy either side. Among Democrats, 35% would be happy with this outcome, while 56% would be unhappy. Republicans, who have consistently opposed the individual mandate, are not much happier: 43% would be happy if the court strips only this provision, while 47% would be unhappy.

For many partisans, only an “all or nothing” outcome will be acceptable. Four-in-ten (40%) Republicans say they will be happy only if the entire law is overturned, while another 29% would be happy with either overturning the entire law or just the mandate. Conversely, 39% of Democrats say they will be happy only if the entire law is upheld, while 17% would be happy with either keeping the entire law or removing the mandate but keeping the other elements.

It is amazing that the Democratic base claims they would be unhappy with getting everything they supposedly wanted from the new law (subsidies, ban on recession, ban on pre-existing conditions, Medicaid expansion) just because the Court eliminated only the highly unpopular individual mandate.

It is important to remember that exactly four years ago then candidate Obama was running against the idea of an individual mandate. The individual mandate to purchase private insurance was a traditional, Republican/Conservative idea opposed by many Democrats and liberals (who presumably preferred more universal public programs). The Court striking down only the mandate would actually make the Affordable Care Act more, not less, like the health care reform program Obama originally promised. Yet apparently making the law more like the health care program Obama promised would still leave most Democrats unhappy.

The mandate went from something Obama said he strongly opposed, to something Obama said he reluctantly supported to get a deal, to an essential element of the law Obama is desperately trying to protect at any cost. In their Court argument, his Administration even put the ban on pre-existing conditions and community rating in serious danger of being thrown out as well to strengthen the legal case for the mandate.

Apparently not only has Obama’s position on the mandate shifted radically, but he has managed to shift the bulk of his base’s opinion of the mandate with it. Obama’s shift and the partisan nature of this fight has caused base Democrats to develop a frankly bizarre attachment to the individual mandate.

This is a reminder of the true power of the bully pulpit. A President’s position can’t sway the whole country, but it can have a huge power to sway the President’s base. We saw similar dynamics with support among Obama’s base for the Libya war and same-sex marriage going up significantly after he spoke out in favor of them. A president can easily get his own base to become invested in a particular position, even if just a few years ago the same president’s campaign was spending millions running ads saying it was a bad idea.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at http://pendinghorizon.com