Ask five Democrats what our party’s message is and odds are you’re not going to get the same answer from any of them.
Therein lies the problem. Not because there aren’t a multitude of things the Democratic Party stands for — including, but not limited to, equal opportunity, diversity and a strong social safety net — but because any response that takes longer than 10 seconds to communicate is a missed opportunity to make our case.
I know this to be true because I get asked what my party stands for on a near-daily basis. And I only get 30 seconds to answer, too. It’s just one of the realities of working at Fox News as a liberal commentator: You’re constantly on trial and you’d better have concise answers.
From looking at the polling, special election outcomes and national sentiment, the answer should be clear to all of us: Democrats are the party of health care.
Yes, the road to get here has been treacherous. I remember the days when President Obama’s health care law was deeply unpopular. I remember many stories of Americans who couldn’t keep their doctors, suffered with rising costs and watched their insurers leave the exchanges. And we can never forget the gnawing drumbeat against ObamaCare from Republicans. In truth, not all of these problems have been solved and we must continue to work to improve the law (and try to surpass the negative messaging that is inevitable).
But there has been a sea change for ObamaCare in America. Today, the law is favored by 49 percent of Americans and opposed by 41 percent in the Real Clear Politics average. According to Gallup, 56 percent now believe health care is the government’s responsibility, while only 42 percent think it’s not. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll even found that 51 percent support single-payer coverage, while 43 percent oppose it.
We conducted a poll at Bustle, in partnership with VoteRunLead, a nonpartisan organization training female candidates to run for office, that surveyed 1,000 American women to shed light on how women really feel about running for office and the issues that matter most to them. We found that health care was the number one issue across the board. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Nation mourns Colin Powell The Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight Powell death leads to bipartisan outpouring of grief MORE supporters and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups MORE supporters agreed. Who knew that was even possible?
With those kinds of numbers, health care should be a banner issue on the lips of every Democrat running for office. And in locales where it has been, Democrats have exceeded expectations.
Look at the special election in Arizona’s 8th District just days ago. Trump won the district by 21 points and Republican Debbie Lesko claimed the seat by only six points. What issue helped Democrat Hiral Tipirneni close that gap? Health care, according to Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician. It was the top issue for 58 percent of voters, and voters sided with Tipirneni by two points on health care.
Democrat Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District was decided by fewer than 1,000 votes and exit polling showed that 52 percent said health care was the top issue for them; 15 percent said it was the most important issue and 37 percent reported that it was very important. Who did these voters break for? The Democrat. Over 60 percent who said health care was the most important issue to them backed Lamb, and 62 percent who said health care was very important to them supported him.
This trend was apparent in the Virginia governor’s race, too. In NBC News exit polling, health care was the top issue for 39 percent of voters, by far the most important. Democrat Ralph Northam was the beneficiary, with 77 percent who reported that health care was most important to them breaking for him.
A recent Global Strategy Group survey found that Democrats are favored on health care over Republicans by a staggering 18 points. Throw in the fact that Trump’s former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Former Georgia ethics official to challenge McBath A proposal to tackle congressional inside trading: Invest in the US MORE just said that the repeal of the ObamaCare individual mandate will actually drive up costs — as Democrats have argued for years — and our case for going all-in on health care gets even stronger.
Branding ourselves as the party of health care would go a long way toward solving the raging battle between progressives and moderates. This standoff hurt us badly in 2016 and looks to be an issue again in 2018. I won’t be advocating for “Medicare for All” as our party policy, but we can certainly agree on overarching goals as Democrats by showing a unified front. It might include support of progress toward the inclusion of a government option, where appropriate, and fixing what’s broken in ObamaCare.
“So many of the issues Democrats care about run through health care,” said one of my Bustle colleagues. She is one of the millions of women who have been motivated to get involved since the 2016 election and she is struggling to see any consistent messaging from the party. She added, “Through health care, Democrats have a chance to speak not just to their own party but to all sides of the political spectrum. They should run with it.”
My thoughts exactly.
This sentiment takes on special importance because Friday is the one-year anniversary of the Republicans voting to repeal ObamaCare. So when they say “MAGA!” to you, simply reply “Health care!” to them.
2018 midterms, here we come.
Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science.