For some reason, one of the most bizarrely persistent myths on the left is that the specifics of the new health care reform law are actually popular. The myth was again brought up today by Ezra Klein:
You saw this a lot during health-care reform, where the specifics of the law were popular but the law itself was not and liberals took that to mean they had a mere simple communications problem. What those polls really told you was that in a world where the two parties both agreed to support something like the Affordable Care Act, the Affordable Care Act would be extremely popular. But in a world where there was a bitter and endless fight over the Affordable Care Act, the Affordable Care Act wasn’t going to be very popular.
While it is true that the Republicans’ all-out attack on ACA most likely made the law less popular, on net, the actual specifics on the law weren’t popular.
The reality is that only a few of Affordable Care Act specifics have popular support, like guaranteed issue, Medicaid expansion, subsidies to buy insurance, and allowing children up to 26 to stay on their parents’ plan. But equally important is that some parts of the law are extremely unpopular, such as the individual mandate and the excise tax on employer-provided insurance.
These two provisions were also inherently unpopular well before Republicans started attacking the bill, that is why the Obama campaign used the mandate as a cudgel against Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and used John McCain’s support of the idea of the excise tax as one of their most common attacks in the general election.
This is the “no one likes a pepperoni and glass pizza” problem. Yes, I love cheese, dough and tomato sauce, but no matter how tasty the pepperoni is, I will consider the entire pizza terrible if you insist on also using broken glass as a top. Just like the glass on the pizza, only a few sufficiently unpopular provisions in bill built on popular ideas can make the whole thing unacceptable. This is a very basic principle of politics that ballot initiative campaigns need to deal with all the time. It also made Democrats stubborn refusal to replace the mandate when it was polling so terribly such an unbelievably foolish move.