It's been nearly a year since Jason Cherkis published it, but his health care anecdote out of Kentucky resonates because of its salience. As Cherkis reported last August, a middle-aged man in a red golf shirt shuffled up to a small folding table at the Kentucky State Fair to hear about Kynect, the state's health benefit exchange established by the Affordable Care Act. The man liked what he heard.
"This beats Obamacare I hope," he said, apparently unaware that Kynect and Obamacare are the same thing.
A year later, as NBC News' First Read discovered, there's a lot of this going around.
When it comes to views of the new health care law, sometimes it's all in a name. In Kentucky, our NBC-Marist poll found that 57% of registered voters have an unfavorable view of "Obamacare," the shorthand commonly used to label the 2010 Affordable Care Act. That's compared with only 33% who give it a thumbs up -- hardly surprising in a state where the president's approval rating hovers just above 30%. By comparison, when Kentucky voters were asked to give their impression of kynect, the state exchange created as a result of the health care law, the picture was quite different. A plurality -- 29% -- said they have a favorable impression of kynect, compared to 22% who said they view the system unfavorably.
I put together the above chart to help capture the difference, and while kynect is less well known -- 27% of Kentuckians said they hadn't heard of it, with another 21% saying they were unsure -- the difference is hard to miss.
It's a timely reminder that polling on health care is tricky in this political climate. If you ask Americans whether they like "Obamacare." in most cases, they do not. Ask them whether they support the policy provisions within the Affordable Care Act and suddenly the law looks very popular. What explains the discrepancy? Some of it's based on lingering confusion -- a lot of folks still don't know much about the law -- and some of it's tribal, with those who hold the president in contempt rejecting the reform law, not on the merits, but because Obama signed it.
Of course, as an electoral matter, this may offer Democrats in states like Kentucky an opportunity.
Greg Sargent had an interesting report about a month ago on the politics of health care in the Bluegrass State.
In Kentucky, sign-ups for Obamacare have climbed higher than 400,000. Yet Mitch McConnell, as always, remains 1000 percent convinced that the law is an ongoing policy catastrophe that will never be anything other than an irrevocable political disaster for Democrats. No doubt, Obamacare (and Obama) are hideously unpopular in Kentucky. But it would be interesting to see how Kentucky Kynect -- the state exchange that by most accounts is a success -- polls there. Now a Dem House candidate is running a new ad hitting Republicans specifically for wanting to end Kentucky Kynect, as opposed to wanting to repeal Obamacare. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that Elisabeth Jensen, who is challenging GOP Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky's 6th District, is tying Barr to unpopular Senator Mitch McConnell, contrasting their drive to repeal Kentucky Kynect with popular Governor Steve Beshear's successful implementation of it.
Obviously, a red-state Democrat would have to be crazy to go on the offensive against a Republican on "Obamacare," but if the Kynect system is more popular, it offers a potential opening for criticism.
Taking this one step further, doesn't this also suggest congressional Democrats should steer clear of the "Obamacare" label and perhaps start pushing the "Affordable Care Act" name? I assume everyone has seen this Jimmy Kimmel bit, but it's still relevant: