In America the Polarized, almost every issue is viewed through a partisan lens. The most recent trio of troubles to hit the White House--IRS, Benghazi, and DOJ--has elicited predictably partisan feelings. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll released this week, 74 percent of Republicans believe that the GOP-led investigation into the attacks on an American consulate in Libya is legitimate, while 71 percent of Democrats see this as nothing but political opportunism. A Pew poll finds that Republicans are paying much closer attention to all three of these issues than Democrats.
This is nothing new. That same Pew poll showed that Democrats were much more interested than Republicans in the decision by George W. Bush to commute the prison sentence of former Vice President Cheney aide Scooter Libby.
The question now is whether this deep-seated polarization may help Democrats survive what many expect to be a rocky roll-out of Obamacare in 2014.
As I wrote last month, there are plenty of Democrats who are worried that Obamacare will be a big drag on the party in 2014. The public--especially traditional Democratic voters like young people and Latinos--remains woefully uneducated about the law. Democrats are also a bit more ambivalent about the law than Republicans who almost universally dislike it. The most recent Kaiser Family Foundation tracking survey found 85 percent of Republicans view the law unfavorably compared to 57 percent of Democrats who view the law favorably.
This suggests that a bad experience with the health care law in 2014 could turn even partisan Democrats against it--or at the very least do nothing to make them feel good about it. Republicans, meanwhile, are likely to remain opposed to the law as long as President Obama is in office.
That scenario suggests big electoral problems in 2014 for Democrats. After all, angry people are much more likely to vote than those who are content or mildly happy.
Of course, this assumes that Democrats are going to simply play defense in 2014. They tried that in 2010. It didn’t work out so well. Instead, it’s more likely that if things start to go south on Obamacare in 2014, Democrats will go on offense--not in support of the law, but against the health insurance industry.
Just as Americans are divided along party lines about their feelings about Obamacare, they also diverge when it comes to their opinions about the health insurance companies.
A January 2012 poll for the Kaiser Family Foundation found that forty-three percent of Republicans had a great deal/fair amount of confidence that health insurance companies would “recommend the right thing for the country on health care.” Just 26 percent of Democrats felt similarly. Meanwhile, twice as many Democrats as Republicans--31 percent to 15 percent--had no confidence in the health insurance industry to do the right thing.
The health insurance industry, however, is prepared for the fight. One top industry official tells me they fully expect to see “plenty of insurer bashing in the coming months” and are “prepared to engage.” The industry, says this source, has already been busy explaining to legislators, employers, consumers and the media the changes Americans should expect from their health insurance and why.
The Kaiser Foundation has also found that while many Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the insurance industry as a whole, they tend to feel protective of their own insurer. This isn’t much different from the way Americans feel about Congress as a whole (hate ‘em) versus how they feel about their own member of Congress (like ‘em). Sixty-two percent of those under age 65 with employer-sponsored insurance think that their employer is providing them the best insurance they can afford, including 54 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents and 71 percent of Republicans.In other words, if your employer tells you that the health care you’ve been getting for the past few years is now more expensive--or is being dropped altogether--you may be more willing to blame outside forces (a.k.a. Obamacare) rather than the selfish interests of your insurance company. But, while the industry and employers try to “educate” the public about the causes of rate hikes or changes to their long-held policies, most Americans are choosing to get their information about the law from friends and family, cable TV and internet--the very things that help drive our current level of polarization and partisanship. The April tracking survey by Kaiser finds that 52 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of Democrats say friends and family, cable TV, radio, newspapers and other online sources of information are their most important sources of information about the health care law. That means if you already hate Obamacare, everything you'll be reading, listening to, getting on Facebook or on your Twitter stream is likely to reinforce that opinion. Meanwhile, if you already think health insurance companies are looking for any opportunity to screw the little guy, everything you'll be seeing on TV and on your computer screen will reinforce that attitude.
To be sure, reality is going to be the most effective enforcer of attitudes on health care. If people feel they are getting a raw deal under the new health care law, redirecting the blame alone won’t be able to make Obamacare any more popular. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If Democrats don’t want to endure the same fate they did in 2010, they can’t allow the GOP to fill the space.