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Bad Political Medicine?

Many key voters still don't like the health care legislation.

9:00 AM, Jun 22, 2010 • By GARY ANDRES
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More bad news emerged yesterday for those Democrats hoping support for health care reform might boost their electoral fortunes.  The short answer: it won't. At least, not in certain pivotal states and not with swing voters.

This piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by David Brady, Daniel Kessler, and Douglas Rivers -- all from Stanford University -- outlines findings from a new poll done by YouGov/Polimetrix in eleven states in key Senate elections this November.

The survey reveals that support for health care has not budged much in these states since the legislation passed. But more importantly, the measures are still not very popular, nor are the lawmakers who voted for it.

Brady et. al. sum up the Democrats' tactical gambit this way:

The Democrats made a strategic choice to pass health reform even though they knew it did not have majority support. They assumed passage would generate a positive initial response from the media—which it did. They also hoped that, with time, voters would see reform in a more favorable light, and that health care would not pose an issue in the midterm elections. Were the Democrats right? If our polling is correct, they were not.

In January, we asked voters in 11 states that could have competitive Senate races in November—Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania—how they felt about health reform and how they were likely to vote. The polls were conducted by YouGov using a panel of Internet users selected to represent registered voters in each state. We found widespread opposition to reform—and to the Democratic senators who voted in favor of it.

Last month, we went back to the same voters and asked the same questions. We found that public opinion about health reform is roughly stable, and opposition to reform appears to be an important determinant of voting intention in the midterm elections—particularly for political independents.

After controlling for a host of political and demographic variables, the authors found that voters against health care created a substantial political benefit for GOP candidates.

In both January and May, opinion about reform had a statistically significant and electorally important impact on voters against the Democratic candidate for Senate. Voters who opposed health care reform were around 20 percentage points more likely to vote for the Republican candidate. 

They also find a growing impact on House races over the past four months:

In January, voters who opposed health reform were 24 points more likely to vote Republican; by May, they were 44 points more likely. 

Not surprisingly, health care reform is most unpopular among self-identified Republicans, while it receives overwhelming support from Democrats.  Yet the statistical model finds that even if these partisans changed their views on health care, it would not alter their vote preference.

Not so for independents in the states surveyed:

In contrast (to partisans), independents' views about health reform have a much greater effect on their vote intention. If, in either Colorado or Ohio, the president could swing independents' opinion about health reform in his favor, our model predicts that the Democratic candidate for Senate could pick up as much as six additional percentage points of the independent vote.

In Colorado, this would mean that independents would split 56% to 44% for the Democrat rather than 50/50; in Ohio, it would mean that independents would split 52% to 48% rather than 57% to 43% for the Republican. In a close race, this could be enough to put the Democrat in the lead. Given the stability of public opinion in close states, our analysis suggests that the president faces an uphill battle.

As Resurgent Republic and others have noted over the past year, support for Democrats among independent voters has eroded significantly compared to the last election cycle. This survey suggests health care reinforces that downward trajectory.

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