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Public support shifts in ACA's favor

The political world largely assumes the ACA is broadly unpopular. As the polls start to shift in the ACA's favor, it's time to re-think those old assumptions.
Barack Obama, Edna Pemberton
President Barack Obama hugs Edna Pemberton before speaking with volunteers at Temple Emanu-El Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, in Dallas.
The Affordable Care Act's policy successes have become so obvious, it's become hard not to laugh at critics who stick their heads in the sand and pretend the system is "failing." By every fair measure, the ACA is thriving in ways even optimists didn't expect.
But the successes have consistently come with a caveat: the law still isn't popular. To this extent, the ACA has cultivated a very specific reputation as a policy victory and a political failure.
And for many years, this reputation was largely accurate. Polling has consistently found that Americans broadly support the provisions within the health care reform law, even while saying they oppose the law overall. As Greg Sargent noted this morning, however, it's probably time to revisit old assumptions about the ACA's popularity.

The new Kaiser Family Foundation monthly tracking poll finds that Obamacare has edged ever so gingerly into positive territory: 43 percent of Americans approve of the law, while 42 percent disapprove of it. That's the first time the law has been in positive territory since the last presidential election. More to the point, it's the first time the law has been in positive territory since implementation of the law began and it suffered hideous roll-out problems, followed by months and months of GOP hyping of every Obamacare horror story Republicans could find (or invent).

The same survey found that only 29% of Americans endorse the Republican line on repealing the law. This is roughly consistent with the latest Bloomberg News poll, which found 35% support full repeal.
The GOP's entire posture is based on a bogus premise: that there's broad public support for scrapping the entirety of the Affordable Care Act. There clearly is not. It leaves Republicans with literally nothing to offer in the debate: no alternative proposal, no repeal strategy, no substantive arguments, and no political advantage over a law that's enjoyed renewed support.
Brian Beutler added yesterday that the weak support for the absolutist Republican position is itself exaggerated in practical terms, since the bulk of critics are seniors who are enjoying the benefits of Medicare's socialized system.

[E]ven the 35 percent support figure for repeal overstates the scope of the law's unpopularity. Or, more accurately, we should ignore a sizable chunk of Americans who want to repeal Obamacare. Repeal is a fringe position, in that Americans oppose it overwhelmingly. But it's also fringe in that those who do support it reside disproportionately on the periphery of the law itself. Their opinions matter insofar as they're eligible to vote, but for heuristic purposes we should ignore them. [...] Only a third of the country supports full repeal, and, like the Republican coalition itself, it is a very old third -- comprised of the only people in the country with almost no stake in the law's core costs and benefits.

In fairness, we haven't yet reached the point at which the law can credibly be called "popular." There's some evidence the ACA has its head above water -- which is unusual and a welcome development for the White House -- but we're still looking at a closely divided electorate.
But therein lies the point: a divided electorate is itself evidence of growing pro-Obamacare attitudes. The right launched an enormous, years-long p.r. campaign intended to turn the public against the Affordable Care Act, and convince the American mainstream that the law is radical and dangerous. It was largely effective -- Republicans' policy argument failed, but their rhetorical effort thrived.
At least, it did. As the law takes root and the public learns for itself that the myths aren't true, the right's house of cards is slowly crumbling.
Postscript: It's not lost on me that it would be a tragedy if the Supreme Court guts the nation's health care system as it succeeds on substantive and political grounds.