Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Missouri Referendum on ObamaCare

We amateur political handicappers spend a lot of our time watching political opinion polls bounce around because that’s the best evidence we have between elections about voter preferences. Citing polling data is the only way we have of giving our pretenses to political clairvoyance a semblance of intellectual substance. Polling results are always sufficiently equivocal and multifarious, however, to leave us plenty of room for wishful thinking. So much depends on how the sample was compiled, how the questions were asked and in what sequence that, etc.

With a little ingenuity, then, you can usually manage to find polling data to support a political narrative in which you’re psychologically invested. That dynamic has been displayed prominently this summer in opinions about the electoral consequences of ObamaCare.  Conservatives like to think it’s Republicans’ electoral trump card because some polls show that most likely voters want it repealed.  Liberals like to think that, when you filter out the noise generated by Republican disinformation, the polls show that ObamaCare is getting more popular all the time in every demographic except seniors. We won’t know who’s right until next November.

Election returns are a lot less equivocal than polling results and therefore much harder to explain away. The political process has boiled a wide range of political issues down into a well-defined binary choice. That’s why, for my money, the election of Scott Brown to the Senate from Massachusetts said more about public opinion respecting ObamaCare as of last January than all the polls combined. Maybe public opinion toward it has warmed since then, but it’s hard to deny that six months ago it was ice-cold.

Seen in this light, it’s hard to overstate the significance of the passage of Proposition C yesterday in Missouri as evidence of what voters now think about ObamaCare:
“Missouri voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a federal mandate to purchase health insurance, rebuking President Barack Obama's administration and giving Republicans their first political victory in a national campaign to overturn the controversial health care law passed by Congress in March.

"‘The citizens of the Show-Me State don't want Washington involved in their health care decisions,’ said Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, one of the sponsors of the legislation that put Proposition C on the August ballot. She credited a grass-roots campaign involving Tea Party and patriot groups with building support for the anti-Washington proposition.

“With most of the vote counted, Proposition C was winning by a ratio of nearly 3 to 1.”
Granted, the usual caveats apply: this was a low-turnout election, conducted in the dead of summer when lots of voters have better things to do. So it’s a different electorate than you'll see in next November’s elections. But it’s still a real election, reliably measuring the preferences of the substantial segment of the electorate that’s most likely to vote next November in a swing state. The results couldn’t be much more discouraging for Democrats.

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