To many analysts and pundits when Chuck Schumer said Obamacare had hurt the Democratic Party in 2014 they did not bat an eyelash. But in the eyes of many Democrats what he said amounted to mutiny. On November 25th at a National Press Club meeting discussing Obamacare Chuck Schumer said “Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them. We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem – health care reform. The plight of uninsured Americans and the hardships caused by unfair insurance company practices certainly needed to be addressed. But it wasn’t the change we were hired to make; Americans were crying out for an end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs; not for changes in their health care. This makes sense considering that 85 percent of all Americans got their health care from either the government – Medicare or Medicaid – or their employer. And if health care costs were going up, it didn’t really affect them.”
He further elaborated “Only a third of the uninsured are even registered to vote. In 2010 only about 40 percent of those registered voted. So even if the uninsured kept with the rate, which they likely did not, we would still only be talking about only 5 percent of the electorate. To aim a huge change in mandate at such a small percentage of the electorate made no political sense. So when Democrats focused on health care, the average middle-class person thought, the Democrats are not paying enough attention to “me.” He succinctly pointed out the advere policy and political consequences of the law. “Had we started more broadly, the middle class would have been more receptive to the idea that President Obama wanted to help them. The initial faith they placed in him would have been rewarded. They would have held a more pro-government view and would have given him the permission structure to build a more pro-government coalition. Then Democrats would have been in a better position to tackle our nation’s health care crisis.”
Numerous Democrats disagreed. Most notable, Nancy Pelosi, who said “We come here to do a job, not keep a job.” Not surprisingly, several former White House staffers also came out in support of the law and the President. The LA Times even came out against Schumer. But while many Democratic officials and some media outlets may disagree with the senior Senator the public has generally sided with Schumer.
The Affordable Care Act has not had majority support since its early conception in 2009. A solid majority of all adults in countless polls have said the law will cause them negative consequences, has their disapproval or will cost them more money. This is not surprisingly when one considers that a majority of voters consider it a wealth redistributionist scheme. Look at some of the key points of the law.
First-off, consider the law takes over $500 billion from Medicare to fund Medicaid. People on Medicare tend to be middle to higher income and largely white while those on Medicaid are generally poor and majority-minority. Second, by requiring young, healthy individuals to purchase insurance under the Individual Mandate to fund healthcare for the poor the young are seeing their limited wealth transferred. Lastly, the law’s primary support largely rests on racial identification with blacks and Hispanics generally supporting it and whites opposing it.
To say this has had electoral ramifications is an understatement. In 1994, after Democrats attempted to pass HillaryCare, whites voted GOP 58-42 in the election. In 2010, after Obamacare’s passage, white voters Republican by the largest margin since 1994, again at 58-42. In 2014, whites further fell into the GOP’s camp and voted 62-38 for GOP candidates. The group that most supported Republicans were working class, non college educated men and women who used to form the backbone of the Democratic Party.
These voters went 64-34 for GOP candidates and more importantly overwhelmingly supported GOP candidates in critical swing states such as Iowa and Colorado. Both these state’s white working class is far more friendly to Democrats than the national white working class. Not so much this election.
This has led some Democrats such as Schumer, and rising liberal star Elizabeth Warren to suggest the party needs to return to promoting wage and economic growth based policies. But whether the party can do this in a convincing way remains to be seen. Political analyst Charlie Cook says Obamacare has left an indelible mark on how white voters view the Democratic Party. Short of the GOP imploding like it did under Bush Democrats remain likely to struggle among whites.
Democratic efforts to make the law and their image more palatable to whites are hindered by two significant facts. The first is the GOP is unlikely to let Democrats make the law more acceptable to whites. Second, considering the law is a massive redistributionist scheme and is predicated on funding itself through taxes levied largely on whites. eliminating any onerous provisions on largely white constituencies would surely annoy Democratic constituencies.
As if this was not bad enough the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid said “many, if not most, of the seven million people who purchased insurance through the A.C.A. will either have to pay higher premiums or higher deductibles, or submit themselves to the complex process of switching plans.” Even if more of these people are registered to vote than Schumer suggests the odds of this giving them a reason to go out and vote is pretty slim.
Beyond the glaring roll Obamacare has played in the elections, another statistic stands out. Out of the 60 Senators that voted for Obamacare, 30 have lost reelection or retired. Of the white Democratic Congressman in Southern states who voted for the law who represented majority white districts in 2009 not a single member still remains in Congress. Considering the above it is easy to see why.
The 2014 elections also showed that Democrats may also not be able to rely solely on the nation’s changing demographics in the short and perhaps long-term. Specifically, Republicans won 37% of the Hispanic vote and 49% of the Asian vote. In key GOP leaning states such as TX, GA and FL the party’s Senate and gubernatorial candidates ran ahead of their party’s margins in key states. Perhaps Democrats should not be so bullish on 2016, Hillary or no Hillary.