The recent Supreme Court decision has added some controversy to an already puzzling presidential game. Reports and surveys differ dramatically in their estimates of Obamacare’s impact on Romney’s and Obama’s presidential prospects.
First, it’s unclear whether Americans do in fact care about the bill. According to the June 30 Economist, only 5 percent of people polled (and potential voters) named healthcare as the issue that worries them most, while jobs and economy scored more than 50 percent. When forced to take the health care reform into consideration, the public seem to be divided relatively equally. About 50 percent of those polled dislike the law, while around 40 percent approve it; or 45 percent versus 48 percent, according to a March Gallup Survey. However, certain surveys show some superiority of bill haters over bill supporters: about 46 percent expect the bill to have some contagious effect on the US economy (compared with 37 percent that believe it will help).
Second, the positions of both candidates also do not add clarity to the issue.The polarization of society on the health care question has allowed both candidates to interpret the Supreme Court decision in their favor. Obama praised the Supreme Court’s health care ruling, claiming that it signified “a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law”.
Romney, however, seems to have more solid foundation for joy. Attempts to blame him for flip-flopping and introducing his own Romneycare during Massachusetts governance (a state-level analogue of Obamacare bill which had its own version of penalty) seem to have failed. The recent data indicate that if anything, Romney is winning from the Supreme Court’s decision to acknowledge the largest tax increase in US history as constitutional. Since the ruling Romney has already attracted additional $4.2 million in fundraising due to his appeal to replace Obama for the sake of repealing Obamacare. Similarly, polls indicate that Republicans are generally more motivated to vote against Obama because of the bill, than Democrats are to support Obama on the same grounds. Finally, the independent voters who will play the crucial role during the upcoming elections as the candidates are racing very close to each other (Obama – 46.3 percent versus Romney’s 44.9 percent), seem to get more infuriated by the bill and oppose Obama, thus turning to Mitt Romney as a last resort. Taken altogether these facts don’t explain why Obama was so eager to push this debt-and-tax-increasing bill since the beginning of his presidency. A more logical step would be to wait until the second term and try to resolve more urgent economic problems first. The current split within American society and economic uncertainty made Obamacare more likely to strengthen Romney’s standing. On the contrary, most of the reform supporters were seemingly going to support Obama in any case (whether the bill was passed or not). Why did Obama need to adopt the healthcare in his first term and accept all the risks associated to playing on the nerves of the independent Republican-leaning public?
Obama’s feverish attempt to gain some advantage on the domestic policy issues might provide a potential answer. While foreign policy under his first presidential term has been quite successful, achievements on the domestic grounds have remained less striking. Liberal support groups, which expected Obama to turn the United States into some Swedish fantasy version of liberalism (according to Fareed Zakaria’s renown quote) have increasingly become quite frustrated with his failure to do so, and their frustration indirectly contributed to the emergence of the OWS movement. Therefore Obama’s rush to pass the bill through may be interpreted as an effort to consolidate his support group and reaffirm his position as a persistent candidate with a clear liberal agenda who cares deeply about well-being of his nation.
While the President obviously cares less about lowering taxes, cutting debt and kick-starting the economy at this point, it is quite unclear whether his message will be positively endorsed by a divided American society.