They Love Obamacare Until You Call It 'Obamacare'

Arkansas residents strongly support expanding Medicaid under Obamcare — that is, until you tell them the expansion is part of Obamacare. Then they don’t support it anymore. In yet another indication of how successfully Republicans have tarnished the nickname for the Affordable Care Act, a new poll of Arkansans showed that net support for the state’s private Medicaid expansion drops by 19 points when you include the word “Obamacare” in the polling questions. Arkansas residents, it seems, just don’t want to like Obamacare, regardless of what’s in it.

Last year, the state legislature passed a unique version of the Medicaid expansion that involves giving residents federal dollars to spend on private insurance plans through the state’s health care exchanges. But state lawmakers have to vote to continue that program during the next legislative session, or roughly 200,000 low-income Arkansans will lose their health insurance.

A recent poll asked Arkansas residents whether they think the program continue, but it posed the question in two different ways. The first time, the question was phrased as follows:

Last year, the legislature passed a law allowing Arkansas to spend federal Medicaid dollars to provide private insurance to low-income Arkansans through health care exchanges. In the upcoming meeting of the legislature, lawmakers will be asked to continue that program or not. Should the legislature vote to continue this “private option” after this current year?

With that wording, 48 percent of respondents said it should be continued, while 33 percent said it shouldn’t. But that changed when the question was re-phrased as such:

As part of President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul plan – known as Obamacare – the Arkansas Legislature passed a law that would add more than 200,000 people to its Medicaid program by using private insurance to purchase health insurance. Do you support or oppose this law?

As soon as the word “Obamacare” was used in the question, support for expanding the program dropped to 35 percent, while opposition shot up to 39. In other words, a 15-point advantage for Obamacare turns into a 4-point disadvantage as soon as you identify the law by the man who signed it. The poll is a fitting companion for the recent story of Ellen Louise Fant, a 60-year-old Arkansas woman who, after declaring her hatred for the Affordable Care Act, learned that she was eligible for the Medicaid expansion, and subsequently thanked President Obama for passing the law.

This isn’t the only poll showing that, for many Americans, personal dislike of Barack Obama often trumps facts and reality. Last year, a national survey showed that opposition to the Affordable Care Act jumps by about 10 points when you call it “Obamacare.” Even more embarassingly, a poll from last year showed that ones-third of Louisiana Republicans blame Obama for the botched federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Those Republicans either didn’t know or didn’t care that, when Katrina struck, Obama was a senator from Illinois, not President of the United States.

While this is a depressing reminder of how easily people can be manipulated into opposing things they actually like, the solution for Democrats is actually quite straightforward: They should simply claim to oppose Obamacare but loudly proclaim their support for the Medicaid expansion. That way, people will get the policies they want, but won’t have to confront the fact that it was Obama who enacted those policies. Problem solved!