After the March enrollment surge brought the number of people covered by the ACA up to 8 million, politicians and pundits alike felt renewed enthusiasm for the law. President Obama again declared the debate over the ACA to be over. Democrats, once worried about the law’s effects on their midterm chances, went on the offensive. Journalists proclaimed victory. But a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that the enrollment surge has barely altered the public’s low opinion of the ACA:
The enrollment surge at the end of March in the health insurance exchanges […] got a fair amount of attention from the public, with over half saying they followed the enrollment numbers “very” or “fairly closely.” But the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that this news did little to change the public’s impressions of the law, with overall opinion remaining exactly where it was last month (46 percent unfavorable, 38 percent favorable). While over four in ten correctly identify the number of people who have signed up for insurance, enrollment levels do not register as a success for most Americans. Nearly six in ten (including half of those who correctly identified the 8 million figure) believe enrollment fell short of the government’s expectations, and the same share believe the rollout problems indicate that the law is not working as planned.
This poll suggests that public opposition to the law is likely to persist through the midterm elections. We’ve always said that Obamacare’s PR machine faced an uphill battle because, as the old truism has it, you don’t get a second chance at a first impression. Minor achievements like the last-minute surge in enrollment won’t erase people’s memories of a botched rollout that lasted for months. Democrats seeking re-election are still in as much trouble as they were before, and their newly-aggressive defense of the ACA might fall very, very flat.But the poll also shows that Republicans are facing their own challenge: six in ten Americans want to see the law improved rather than repealed and replaced. In these midterm elections, the two parties will be pulling in opposite directions on an uncertain public, which dislikes the law but also fears what might replace it. That’s a tough spot for politicians of all stripes to be in: It’s hard to get out the vote on an issue when voters have decided to shelter in place.