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Republicans will run on health care reform in 2014 and 2016, so get used to it. But do not believe that it will give them a better chance of securing their seats or the best shot at putting competitive Democratic seats in danger. Democrats in the most rural and the strongest Romney seats will have to be inventive as usual, but Democrats have a lot to say on health care: fix it, don’t repeal it, don’t put the insurance companies back in charge and take your hands off Medicare.
Health care is just not a wedge issue that threatens to change these races very much – as we saw in the 2012 elections where Republicans played out this strategy. This is basically a 50-50 issue in the battleground districts and the country, and it remains a 50-50 issue after voters have heard all of their toughest attacks, including one on the role of the IRS in the new system. These attacks have power, and it is important to engage on the issue. But there is no reason to think the debate changes the dynamic in these competitive House seats: we actually show Democrat members gaining on handling health care reform in their own seats.
Why is it that the popularity of the Republican Congress keeps going down as the Republicans vote now 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, despite that the law is not popular with the public? We suspect because the House Republicans are associated with gridlock, extreme partisanship, and intense anti-Obama sentiment; because voters have other serious priorities and their steadfast focus on health care alone says Republicans are not focused on them and their issues; because Democrats are more trusted than Republicans on health care; and most important because voters do not want to repeal the law. The more voters hear “repeal,” the less they are interested in voting Republican.
We know Republican base voters feel intensely about health care reform, but voters rank “government takeover of the health care system” pretty low as a concern about Democrats in Congress.
These results suggest Democrats should engage the issue with some confidence -- they can undermine the Republican attacks and indeed gain an advantage by educating the public on the reforms.