Rob Horowitz: Supreme Court Decision a Net Political Plus for Obama
Tuesday, July 03, 2012
Last week’s highly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement --a sweeping reform of our nation’s health care system -- is a net political plus for the President, but it is likely to play a relatively minor role in an election that will be decided mainly on other factors.
The fact that the majority decision was authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative Republican, makes it harder for Romney and others to argue that this law is such an overreach by the government that it is unconstitutional and outside the American mainstream. As a result, it may soften the negative opinions some voters have about the law and cause those with more mixed feelings to take a second look. More importantly, it avoids the appearance that Obama wasted precious time and energy during tough economic times with nothing to show for it.
Between now and election day the law is likely to remain somewhat unpopular. In a mid-June Pew Research Center poll, 48 percent of Americans disapprove of the new health care law, while only 43 percent approve. Nearly six in 10 Americans disapprove of the individual mandate. Other recent national polls record even higher disapproval rates for the mandate. In fact, it is so unpopular that Republican efforts to seize on Justice Roberts deeming the mandate a "tax" are not likely to gain much traction because polls show people hate the individual mandate more than the idea of new taxes.
Opponents of the law do have more intense negative feelings than supporters have intense positive feelings and the Supreme Court decision is likely to increase this negative intensity and provide a bit more motivation for the hard-core conservative base of the Republican party. The argument that the only way to end Obamacare is at the ballot box will have some resonance.
To fully seize this advantage and make Obamacare a major voting issue, however, there needs to be a clear and not-easily challenged contrast between the candidates. Since Mitt Romney’s health care reform in Massachusetts includes the individual mandate and is in many ways the model for the new federal law, the presumptive Republican nominee is poorly positioned to drive the issue. In fact, every time he strongly attacks Obamacare, he risks increasing the 14 percent advantage Obama now has on which candidate is most honest and truthful. Romney’s argument that this kind of health care reform was good for Massachusetts, but should not be imposed on the rest of the nation, may warm the heart of some states' rights advocates, but it fails to pass the smell test with most voters.
The debate about Obamacare will remain as background noise throughout the 2012 Presidential campaign, but the election is likely to be decided by other factors and as the reverberations from last week’s decision inevitably quiets, the economy will move back to its dominant position in the campaign debate and in most voters’ minds.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.
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