Obamacare Has Endangered the Democratic Majority
It has become conventional wisdom that the decline of the Democrats has mostly to do with the economy and little – if anything – to do with health care.
This meme is wrong. The Democrats’ control of the House did not become tenuous recently. At best, some of the more immediate warning signs – e.g. individual incumbents like Betty Sutton now appear to be in jeopardy – have manifested themselves recently. But there has been a real danger of losing the House for some time, a danger that predates “Recovery Summer” and goes back to the health care debate.
First of all, the fact that the health care bill is no longer the topic du jore does not mean it is no longer an issue. The real questions are whether the health care bill moved voters away from the Democrats, and whether those voters have since moved back now that the debate is over. The answers are yes – the debate moved voters away from the Democrats; and no – the voters have not come back.
It would be difficult for any strong partisan to admit that such an accomplishment was so deeply unpopular. Yet the polling is pretty unequivocal on the relationship between the Democrats’ fortunes and the health care bill. It was during the health care debate that the essential building block of the Democratic majority – Independent voters – began to crumble. It was evident in the generic ballot. It was evident in the President’s job approval numbers. It was evident in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
Reconstructing the Democrats’ meme, we can fairly say that the economy is a huge problem for the party. Of this, there can be no doubt. We can also say that the stalled recovery denied the Democrats a chance to win back the voters they lost over health care. But the process and passage of health care reform were crucial elements in the story. That’s when the party started losing the voters it needs to retain control of the government.