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February 13, 2016

The War of Obamacare Anecdotes in the 2014 Elections

A couple months ago on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, I said that I thought the 2014 elections would be driven by anecdotes related to the Affordable Care Act. I think a pair of ads in two of the most competitive Senate races in the country could be a pretty accurate roadmap for the debate that is coming over the next six months.

Last week in Alaska, an outside group called Put Alaska First went on the air with a new, 30-second television ad, “Beat,” featuring cancer survivor Lisa Keller talking about her struggle to gain insurance coverage and thanking  Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, for his fight against the insurance companies.

“I was born and raised in Alaska. I’m a mother, a runner, and a breast cancer survivor. I was lucky. I beat cancer. But the insurance companies still denied me health insurance just because of a pre-existing condition. I now have health insurance again because of Mark Begich. Because he fought the insurance companies so that we no longer have to.”

The ad is interesting for at least a couple different reasons. It’s one of the first times that a Democratic ad this cycle has tried to frame the Affordable Care Act on its merits instead of critiquing the legislation. It’s also noteworthy that the ad mentions neither Obamacare nor the Affordable Care Act.

But the ACA has given Republicans something that they have generally failed at compared to Democrats — anecdotes to fight a policy war.

Last month in Michigan, the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity went on the air with a 60-second television ad, “Shannon’s Story,” featuring a wife and mother of five children talking about her family’s struggle with “Obamacare.”

“I’m Shannon Wendt. I’m from Grand Rapids, Michigan. We have five kids from 10 years old all the way down to three. We have worked so hard to become middle class. We budget- we’re not wealthy. We, you know, live within our means. To our family, Obamacare has meant nothing but headache and struggle. Our health insurance plan was canceled because of Obamacare. I was shocked. I thought, this has to be wrong. This new plan is not affordable at all. My husband is working a lot more hours just to pay for these new increases. I’m frustrated that government has caused this huge problem for our family. It feels like a kick in the gut. Congressman Peters joined up with President Obama saying, ‘If you like your plan, you can keep it. If you like your doctors, you can keep them.’ Those are lies. Congressman Peters vote for Obamacare is a vote that’s destroying the middle class. Congressman Peters, the Affordable Care Act is not affordable.”

This type of ad has and will be litigated by fact-check organizations and partisans on both sides, but it’s likely that more people will see only the ad rather than the subsequent media analysis and discussion.

If you needed anymore evidence that this Game of Anecdotes is coming, the Republican National Committee has been collecting Obamacare stories since early March. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched way back in January to feature stories of people who say their lives would be negatively affected if Republicans had their way.

So how much of a difference will these anecdotal ads make, particularly in the same race?

That might be one of the biggest unanswered questions of the entire election cycle. But I think an educated guess is: not much.

Public opinion about the Affordable Care Act has been remarkably consistent over nearly five years, with more people viewing it unfavorably than favorably. The approval gap narrowed to about six percentage points in the few months before and after the 2012 presidential election. But that gap has now widened to a double-digit margin.

According to the latest Real Clear Politics polling average, 40 percent favor the ACA compared to 52 percent who oppose it.

But remember that these are national polls, and the fight for the Senate and the House is being played out in more conservative states and districts than the nation as a whole — places where President Barack Obama and the ACA are more unpopular.

It remains to be seen whether the passage of time and these positive Democratic ads will buoy ACA’s popularity enough to make a difference. It’s certainly possible, but it will be more difficult considering Republicans are going to come armed with anecdotes of their own.

  • Nick10

    Opinion polls asked about the Affordable Care Act; e.g. say about 44% approve, 53% disapprove. The problem here is that the majority of people already already had health care coverage. What do they know about the Affordable Care Act?

    There is a problem when polls ask the general population about something they know absolutely nothing about. Don’t trust these polls unless they separate respondents – but they don’t. These polls can not be trusted. Don’t pay any attention to them.

    • Michael Kelly

      I absolutely agree. I’d like to see polling which asks: “Are you in favor of taking away the newly acquired ACA plans from the 7.5 million new subscribers.

      • bishop24230

        Michael Kelly – the problem with your question is there are not 7.5 million new subscribers. We know that some of those who have signed up for plans under Obamacare are those who had policies they liked and lost.

        We also know that many of those who are counted under Medicaid enrollees were already enrolled in Medicaid and their annual renewal was treated as new enrollments.
        Factor into also that over 20% of the enrollees through Obamacare do not actually have coverage because while they have signed up they have yet to pay their premiums.

        So the 7.5 new subscriber number is about as real as the “if you like your plan/doctor you can keep your plan/doctor” promise that never was true.

        • mabramso

          So I would wager that, if you were to poll the 7.5 million who have allegedly signed up, the results would be a bit shocking to the administration. After all, if most of the signups were done by people who were forced off their former plans onto the exchanges, they would be some rather ticked off customers, eh?

          And perhaps that is why haven’t seen any of those polls yet …

          • bishop24230

            mabramso – we don’t need such a poll. There are stories everywhere of people who lost plans they liked and had to go with Obamacare plans that cost more and have higher deductibles.

            Also, feel free to quote me, but don’t misquote me. I pointed out in my previous post that we know that some of the 7.5 million were previously insured who lost their plans under Obamacare. I did not say most of the sign-ups were by people forced off of their previous plan as you quoted me saying.

            The fact is we don’t know how many of the 7.5 million enrollees were previously uninsured because the forms on don’t ask whether the person signing up were insured or not.

          • mabramso

            Point well taken — I did not mean to misquote you by changing “some” to “most”.

            All I was saying is that I am not convinced that even a majority of the 7.5 million people who signed up are pleased that they signed up.

          • bishop24230

            My bad. I misunderstood what you were saying. Thanks for clarifying.

      • Nick10

        A poll of ACA subscribers only [7.5 million] should be approve or disapprove. Taking away? Not possible.

    • bishop24230

      Nick10 – what do most people know about Obamacare?

      1) Most know it was sold on a lie (if you like what you have, you can keep what you have) and without the lie the law never would have passed;

      2) Most know that while millions have already lost their plans because of Obamacare, millions more will lose what they have once the mandate delays expire (that is why Obama unconstitutionally issued the delays – he didn’t want the estimated 100 million who will lose their plans once the employer mandate kicks in to do so before the Nov. elections);

      3) Most know that millions of people have lost their jobs or had their status reduced from full-time to part-time because of Obamacare costs;

      4) Most have heard the horror stories of people who have signed up for plans through Obamacare relative to higher premiums and much higher deductibles.

      So yeah, I think the polls can be trusted. The general public knows enough about this train wreck (Max Baucus’ description not mine) to know it is a disaster.

      Speaking of Baucus, here is a man who decided it would be easier to move to China than face the voters of Montana again after supporting Obamacare. That right there should tell you all you need to know.

    • Nick10

      My business is polls. General or election polls for the media. Above I said that these polls should separate people who already have health care coverage and those who did not – ACA.

      Your content below delves in to the Affordable Care Act problems which you describe below. Nothing to do my poll separations above. Agree?

  • Katness Everdean

    In this related article we find that the Obamacare system is essentially stealing from people’s bank accounts:

  • bishop24230

    I think it is interesting that Mr. Gonzales made sure he pointed out that Americans for Prosperity is funded by the Koch brothers. I wonder why he didn’t point out who is funding Put Alaska First?

    Well, I think we all know the answer to that question.

  • puakev

    The ad you post from the Koch Brothers’ outfit has already been fact-checked, and guess what? It’s b.s. like all their other ads.
    The Wendts, who by the way were Republican precinct delegates in 2012, could’ve gotten better and cheaper coverage if they went on the exchange. Their kids could’ve gotten free coverage from CHIP. But they chose not to.

    • nathanlgonzales

      One of my main points is that more people will see the ad than will hear or read about a subsequent fact-check. So unless a fact-check gets an ad pulled off the air, I think it gets more play in the Democratic base (in this case) rather than to the average voter who might be persuadable.

  • disqusux

    This is the second Republican anti-Obamacare anecdotal ad I’ve seen. What an odd coincidence that the other ad (in the PNW) also starred minor Republican officials. Now I’m hearing both are full of lies. Who’da guessed?

  • Thomas Brady

    Here we find Bolshevik ideologue Van Jones desperately defending the myriad health care lies told by Hussein Obama:

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