New Poll

Battleground Poll Says the Dems May Be All Right

Will the troubled Obamacare rollout hurt Democrats next year? A new poll suggests it won’t—but also suggests the GOP’s demographic winter may still be a ways off.

11.04.13 11:55 PM ET

A bipartisan Battleground Poll of 1,000 likely voters surveyed after the government shutdown and during the disastrous Obamacare rollout finds the pieces in place for a so-called “wave” election that could put control of the House of Representatives within reach for Democrats if President Obama can right the ship on his signature health care achievement, says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. If the negative coverage persists, as he thinks it will, says Republican pollster Ed Goeas, “As has all too often happened to presidents in their second term, there are signs throughout this data that raise the very real prospect that Barack Obama has lost the ability to lead this country.”

Republican Mitt Romney, returning to the public eye after his election loss to Obama, is making the case that one-size-fits-all Obamacare can’t work, and serves as a metaphor for Obama’s failing leadership. Republicans are jumping all over reports of individual policyholders receiving cancellations and notices of higher premiums and deductibles, putting the White House on the defensive over what Obama knew and when he knew it, dragging down the president’s personal image along with his job rating.

“In a second term, once a president’s numbers go down, they never come up, because there’s no campaign being waged, and no air cover,” Goeas told reporters at a breakfast Monday sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. Once voter trust in a president is compromised, as it has been over Obama’s claim, “If you like your insurance, you can keep it,” it doesn’t get rebuilt, at least not easily.

Lake said there is a lot for Democrats to celebrate in the poll, with voters rating dysfunction in Washington the number one issue, higher than jobs and the economy combined, and placing the lion’s share of the blame for the shutdown on the Republicans. But Democrats face challenges as well, especially with turnout. “You see that playing out in the Virginia race right now,” she said, where only half the vote that turned out in 2012 is expected at the polls tomorrow. If this pattern holds, 34 million votes from 2012 won’t be there in 2014, “and two-thirds are Democratic votes,” she said.

Secondly, with budget talks underway on Capitol Hill, Lake said it would be “a political and policy disaster” for Democrats to agree to cuts in Social Security and Medicare—the GOP’s apparent price for relieving some of the pressure from the spending caps imposed by sequestration.

Lake said that compared with George W. Bush at this point in his second term, Obama is in better shape. “He still has plenty of room to lead,” she asserted, adding, “If not him, who? He’s the only game in town.” Obama is being hurt by a barrage of daily stories about angry, frightened and confused Americans being dropped by their insurance company, losing the doctor they relied on, and told their only alternative is to pay more for benefits they can’t afford or don’t want.

“For the life of me, as a Democrat, I don’t understand why they’re not lashing out at the insurance companies for these practices,” said Lake. Democrats historically have been at odds with insurance companies. As First Lady, Hillary Clinton singled them out as public enemy number one in her failed bid to legislate health care reform. “I don’t understand why we aren’t far more aggressive,” Lake said.

Maybe it’s because the Obama team chose to work with the insurance companies, keeping them at the center of Obamacare, with the trade-off that the industry would get millions more customers in exchange for ending some of their more odious practices, like excluding people with a pre-existing condition, capping the amount of medical expenses a policyholder could recover, or dropping people once they became seriously ill.

“The insurance companies are making that choice (to cancel or change policies), not the president,” Zeke Emanuel said on Fox News Sunday, perhaps telegraphing the administration’s next line of defense in the battle over which party gains the upper hand going into next year’s midterm elections.

Lake and Goeas have collaborated on this bipartisan poll, now sponsored by George Washington University, since the 1990s. Goeas refuses to buy what he calls the Democrats’ narrative about a rising new electorate of single women, minorities and young people. He points out that white conservative Christians are 19 percent of the electorate, which is 50 percent higher than the Hispanic vote and 50 percent higher than the African-American vote. Hispanics, he says, “have almost checked out” of the electoral process, and are “almost neutral how they feel about Obama,” which is why, he says, “Obama will hit hard on immigration reform, he needs to get those voters engaged.”

When Goeas asked voters, “Do you identify with the policies of the Tea Party,” he found a significant drop. It was in the 40s in 2010, now it’s in the 20s. When you have a group that engaged and passionate, he says, “you either feed them red meat or you become red meat, which is what’s been happening,” he says, eliciting laughs for his graphic description of the civil war within the GOP. He expects all that to change now that voter anger is directed at Obamacare. Asked which party has the advantage on making Washington work, voters in this survey gave Republicans a one-point advantage, which is essentially a tie. A third of independents said neither.