As Jay Cost of Real Clear Politics notes, it’s pretty obvious that the Democrats’ electoral woes are directly tied to the passage of the health care bill. But somehow horserace analysts like Jonathan Alter, Jim Vanderhei and Mike Allen don’t want to talk about that.
Well, we’ve been talking about it for months now.
Partisans on both sides tell themselves stories about why they’re up, why they’re down, and why the other side is where it is. These stories usually contain at least a grain of truth, but they also help encourage ideologues in the face of an impending rejection by the electorate. Democrats ignored the political problem of health care in the fall and winter – arguing that Martha Coakley and Creigh Deeds were bad candidates, that voters had been turned off by the health care bill because of the process, and that they would come around once the many benefits kicked in. Now, they’re pointing to the economy as the only significant reason why the party is in trouble.
It would be difficult for any strong partisan to admit that such an accomplishment was so deeply unpopular. Yet the polling is pretty unequivocal on the relationship between the Democrats’ fortunes and the health care bill. It was during the health care debate that the essential building block of the Democratic majority – Independent voters – began to crumble. It was evident in the generic ballot. It was evident in the President’s job approval numbers. It was evident in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
Reconstructing the Democrats’ meme, we can fairly say that the economy is a huge problem for the party. Of this, there can be no doubt. We can also say that the stalled recovery denied the Democrats a chance to win back the voters they lost over health care. But the process and passage of health care reform were crucial elements in the story. That’s when the party started losing the voters it needs to retain control of the government.
VanderHei and John Harris recently wrote a piece criticizing “liberal bloggers” who were obsessively naval gazing about the Dave Weigel/Journolist incident, and didn’t care about the fact that Democrats could lose seats in the House this fall.
In fact, FDL did polling at the first of the year that indicated that the health care bill was extremely unpopular with independents, and warned that the Democrats were living in la-la land to ignore it.
January 14, 2010: FDL commissions SurveyUSA to do polling in swing districts to try and ascertain how the health care bill (particularly the individual mandate) will affect Democratic incumbents.
January 14, 2010: The first SurveyUSA poll finds that Vic Snyder is trailing GOP challenger Tim Griffin by 56% to 39%, and that the individual mandate is unpopular with 3 out of 4 voters. If Snyder votes for the health care bill with the individual mandate, he loses another 6 points to Griffin.
January 15, 2010: Our second SurveyUSA poll finds that Steve Driehaus trails Steve Chabot in a rematch of their 2008 race, 39%-56%. When asked if their opinion of Driehaus changes if he votes for the health care bill, 55% of Independents say that their opinion of him would go down.
January 20: SurveyUSA polls one of the suburban districts that will be key to the Democrats’ ability to hold the House in 2010, this time Tim Bishop in (NY-01). Bishop holds a 2 point lead over potential GOP challenger Randy Altschuler, who was already up on the air with ads. Unlike Snyder and Driehaus’s GOP-leaning districts, Bishop’s district has a +3 PVI Democratic advantage. Party affiliation in the district is 27% GOP, 33% Democratic and 39% Independent. When asked how they feel about a health care bill which forces them to buy insurance or pay a penalty, 66% of Independents say they are opposed and 48% say they are strongly opposed.
January 21, 2010: SurveyUSA finds that Baron Hill is trailing Republican Mike Sodrel by 8 points if they matched up once again. Again, 60% of Independents say that their opinion of Hill goes down if he votes for a health care bill forcing them to buy insurance or pay a penalty.
February 16, 2010: Rather than thank us for the head’s up that their caucus is going to be slaughtered if they vote for the health care bill, Mark Ambinder reports that “Already, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is blasting Democratic activist Jane Hamsher for using Survey USA to essentially poll-pressure Blue Dog Democrats into retirement.”
March 13: I talk with a Democratic operative, who tells me that by forcing Congress to vote for the health care bill, Democratic leadership and the White House are like the generals in Paths of Glory, “firing on their own men in the trenches.”
March 17: I wrote “There are currently 36 resolutions in states across the country to ban the mandate which forces people to buy private insurance, or face a penalty of up to 2% of their income that the IRS will collect — the very thing that Obama campaigned against. It will become a rallying cry for the right.”
July 21: A new SurveyUSA poll shows Tom Perriello trailing his GOP opponent by 23 points. Prior to voting for the health care bill, a PPP poll showed Perriello essentially tied with Hurt:
This confirms what FDL has been saying for months: forcing members of Congress like Tom Perriello to vote for the health care bill was truly a Paths of Glory move by House leadership and the administration. As our SurveyUSA polling indicated at the time, the health care bill was hugely unpopular in swing districts.
August 4, 2010: 71% of Missouri voters support Proposition C, which “would prohibit the government from requiring people to have health insurance or from penalizing them for not having it.” It’s a non-binding initiative, but a clear indication of where public sentiment is in a bellwether state.
The DCCC was very good at getting not-so-savvy poll analysts to try and discredit the SurveyUSA polling. (Those same pollsters, ironically, didn’t see anything weird in the Research 2000 polls they were quoting authoritatively at the time, which many now find suspect — though Jerome Armstrong spotted it). Somehow Democratic members of Congress engaged in magical thinking and believed Rahm’s BS about the popularity of the health care bill increasing if it passed.
Rather than focus on jobs creation in a country with climbing unemployment rates, Obama spent the better part of a year focused on passing a health care bill that looks like it will play no small part in the Democratic Party’s upcoming electoral woes.
Well, we warned you.
Update: New headline at Politico:
Democrats said throughout the year-long debate on Capitol Hill that support for the overhaul would increase once the bill passed and Americans were able to take advantage of some of its benefits. But it appears voters’ opinions of the legislation were set more firmly than anyone thought during the bruising political fight.
You don’t say.
Update II: Dave Weigel writes a classy post. Kudos.