Nate Silver and Jonathan Chait disagree with my recent assessment that the health care law has been a factor in the political decline of the Democrats. Both of them make essentially the same point: you can't prove it! Well...yeah! Absent a poll asking people if their main reason for opposition to the Democrats is health care, the best we can do is make a circumstantial argument.* This kind of argumentation happens all the time, especially over at FiveThirtyEight: Every time Silver offers up a statistical correlation, he's making a circumstantial argument. Nothing wrong with that. And while correlation does not necessitate causation (and all that jazz), there is a very strong circumstantial argument to be made here. Consider the contrary assertion: The president and the Democrats' numbers dropped sharply between Memorial Day and Labor Day of last year, right when the health care debate heated up, then declined again between November and December as each chamber passed their versions of it; yet while the bills were manifestly unpopular, it was not a reason for the decline. Does that really make sense?
For his part, Silver says that my argument is "underdetermined" but also that it's "implausible that (health care) hasn't played some role." I suppose that both of these statements could be true at the same time, but that really requires some nuance, doesn't it?
I could bore you with more polling data to back up my argument, or we could just let Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) break the tie:
One of the most innovative voices in the health care debate, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), is accelerating the process of exempting his state from some of the national reforms passed under President Barack Obama.
The Oregon Democrat is seeking to take advantage of a provision he helped write into the legislation that allows states to set up their own health care systems as long as they meet minimal requirements established by the Department of Health and Human Services. In a letter to the state's Health Authority office, Wyden announced that he will introduce legislation to accelerate the start date for state waivers from 2017 to 2014, if not earlier for Oregon specifically.
In addition, he strongly suggested that the state should use the provision to exempt Oregon from the individual mandate, which would penalize those individuals who refuse to purchase insurance coverage. The mandate was a feature of Wyden's own health care bill but has proved to be remarkably unpopular among voters.
Wyden is up for reelection this year. So far, he looks fairly safe. But it is peculiar, isn't it? An incumbent Democrat up for reelection is petitioning to get his state waived from one of the major provisions in the bill.
Somebody needs to tell Senator Wyden that the argument that health care has hurt his party's prospects is underdetermined!
In all seriousness, we can look to the actions of politicians to get a sense of the political effects of health care reform. Are Republicans running against it? Yes. Are Democrats in vulnerable districts running in support of it? Not really. Are some Democrats even running away from it? Yes. Is there a strong correlation between House Democrats who voted no and McCain's share of the district vote? Oh, most definitely.
* In July, Democracy Corps did actually ask people why they disapproved of the president, allowing them to give their own answer. Guess what item was in a statistical tie for number one? (Hint: It rhymes with "realth rare.")