ObamaCare a midterm bust?

ObamaCare a midterm bust?
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ObamaCare has fizzled as a midterm election issue, with views on the law hardening into a partisan split that leaves little opportunity to win over new voters.

While Democrats predicted that the public would come to love ObamaCare, the law’s unpopularity remains high as it enters its second enrollment year.

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And while GOP candidates have attacked the law in their campaigns, it has not been the silver bullet that many expected when HealthCare.gov was melting down last year.

The result could be a wash for both sides in an election cycle where the Senate majority is up for grabs.

“What has been so remarkable about [our] interviews is the stability in opinions of the law,” said Mollyann Brodie, executive director of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and a leading pollster on ObamaCare.

“Despite the Supreme Court case, the presidential election, the forty-or-so votes for repeal and the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov, we’ve seen very few changes in opinion on the law month by month.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation has tracked public views of the healthcare law every month since its passage, conducting roughly 60,000 interviews in the process. The latest survey found that a 43 percent plurality held negative views of the law, down from an all-time high of 53 percent in July.

Brodie said there is a “tiny share” of the public who could be swayed from their current opinion — so-called “pure” independent voters — but that people in that group are also the least likely to vote in midterm elections.

“There was really never an opportunity for the Affordable Care Act to be an issue that could bring new voters to a candidate," she said. “The role it has the potential to play, and appears to be playing, is as a motivator for base voters.”

As one of the decade’s defining political issues and a major unifier for fragments of the GOP, ObamaCare has played a role in each election since its passage.

But few expected one year ago that the law would be out of the headlines with less than a week until the midterms.

The botched rollout of the federal exchanges seemed to many strategists like a failure that would haunt the Obama administration and its allies in perpetuity.

A strong recovery for the new system this spring pushed debate over the healthcare law into a new phase: for the first time in four years, it went mostly quiet.

This doesn't mean mention of the Affordable Care Act isn't happening on the campaign trail. Republicans and a handful of Democrats are using the law as part of their pitch to voters.

But a closer look at the specifics underscores the limited role ObamaCare is playing in the campaigns of each side.

Only 14 percent of political ads aired since January have mentioned ObamaCare, with most coming from the GOP, the Kaiser Family Foundation found in a study released this week.

Democrats, meanwhile, are eschewing nearly all mention of the law, even in ads that are healthcare-related. Only 15 percent of Democratic healthcare ads talked about ObamaCare, the study found, and four percent were negative on the law.

Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorTom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Medicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation MORE (D-Ark.) bucked the trend in August when he released a television spot describing his battle with cancer and his work to pass a law that “prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick.”

A week later, Pryor released an ad that touted his support for Medicare expansion, but again did not mention the Affordable Care Act.

The Democratic ads seems to align with polling that shows many provisions of the healthcare law, taken alone, are popular with people of both parties.

Pryor’s ad, in particular, was seen as a sign that Democrats could embrace a positive ObamaCare message in 2014, provided they failed to mention the law’s name.

Ron Fuller, a former Republican state legislator in Arkansas who now lobbies on health issues, said he wasn’t surprised to see so few ObamaCare ads in a midterms season that revolves around overall approval of the president.

Very few voters are turning out this fall specifically for the health care law because its now seen as “just one part of the dissatisfaction” with Obama — and one that seems hard to change.

“People are thinking, ‘We can't beat this thing. It's the law of the land at this point,” Fuller said. “Until there’s something better or until it absolutely falls totally flat on its own accord, I think that’s become a little less of an issue.”

This approach is evident in Republican ads. While ObamaCare attacks from the GOP are common, Kaiser found, they are typically presented as one in a slate of arguments designed to trigger voters’ opposition to Democrats.

It’s a subtle calculus in races that will decide control of the Senate next year.

Support for the healthcare law is low in states like Arkansas (29 percent), Louisiana (34 percent) and New Hampshire (37 percent), where Democratic incumbents are trying to hang on to seats. The picture is only slightly better in North Carolina (38 percent) and Colorado (40 percent).

“What has happened is the ACA has become basically a shorthand for how people feel about the president and the administration,” said Brodie. “In many cases, it’s reminding the Republican base how angry they are.”