2014 Campaign

Southerners Hate Obamacare More Than Ever. That's Bad News for Democrats


Nick J. Rahall an 18-term congressman and the lone surviving Democrat in West Virginia's U.S. House delegation at a parade on July 27, 2013 in Danville, WV

Photograph by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Nick J. Rahall an 18-term congressman and the lone surviving Democrat in West Virginia's U.S. House delegation at a parade on July 27, 2013 in Danville, WV

On Monday, Democracy Corps, the Democratic polling firm, released a new survey that examines how voters in “battleground states” view the Affordable Care Act. The big takeaway, which you can read in the press release, is that Obamacare has become more popular since its troubled rollout. In a press call Monday afternoon, the firm’s co-founder, Stan Greenberg, emphasized that the law’s favorability ratings have improved enough (especially among independent voters) that the GOP’s serial efforts to repeal it could backfire, come the midterm elections in November.

Sure enough, opinions of the law have improved since late last year among just about every regional and demographic group you can think of. Except one: Southerners. Buried on Page 43 of the poll results is the interesting fact that Southerners in battleground states are even more eager to repeal Obamacare than they were last December—this despite the fact that the law appeared to recover ably from the debacle of its rollout and then exceed its enrollment target. Here’s the relevant slide; see the third column:

Curious about what might account for this movement, I asked Erica Seifert, who directed the survey for Democracy Corps, if she could look into the cross tabs a little deeper and explain what was going on. What she found is interesting. Southerners—no big shock here—are not fans of Obamacare. But opinion toward the law in Southern districts represented by Republicans has not changed. What accounts for the shift toward repeal, Seifert said, are attitudes in Southern districts represented by Democrats. “All of the shift against implementation is in the Democratic districts,” she said. “In the GOP districts, it’s stagnant.”

I joked that it looked like voters in those districts were punishing Democratic lawmakers. Yes, Seifert said, that’s right. “There’s an obstinance in defiance of government programs,” she said. “Particularly this one.”

That’s bad news for Democratic incumbents in Democracy Corps’ Southern battleground districts. For those keeping score at home, there are six of them: Representative Patrick Murphy (FL-18), Representative Joe Garcia (FL-26), Representative John Barrow (GA-12), Representative Mike McIntire (NC-07), Representative Pete Gallego (TX-23), and Representative Nick Rahall (WV-03). Only McIntire, who is retiring, can breathe easy.

This is a further twist in the complicated political fallout from Obamacare. As a number of smart people have been pointing out, the popular narrative that Democrats are frantically running away from the law is wrong. But the Democracy Corps poll suggests that the counter-narrative isn’t so clear cut either: In these six Democratic districts, Obamacare looks like a legitimate albatross. That’s especially worrisome for Democrats because if they’re ever going to retake the House, they’ll need to carry conservative Southern districts such as these.

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Green is senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaGreen.

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