In 2010 after a protracted struggle through Congress, Barack Obama enacted what was in my opinion one of the most remarkable pieces of domestic legislation in recent US political history. Some on the left criticised the Affordable Care Act for not going far enough in the pursuit to provide America with a suitably decent and affordable health service, however given the political climate at the time it was passed and given that it would vastly extend insurance cover to citizens, I stand by my point. It was remarkable.
The centrepiece of the ACA was an individual mandate, requiring some people to be insured or face a fine. The point of the mandate being that the bigger the pool of consumers active in the marketplace the cheaper the insurance premiums would become. However this was challenged as being unconstitutional, it was seen as forcing a consumer to participate in a marketplace and it was taken up by the Supreme Court. Fast forward to yesterday and most sources of conventional wisdom were pretty certain that the ACA or at least parts of it were about to be repealed, I was set to write a very different blogpost and the citizens of the USA were still going to be discriminated against by the insurance companies for having pre existing conditions. Surprisingly though the Affordable Care Act was in fact upheld, the fine for not purchasing insurance was interpreted as a tax by the majority, cue major network news’ descent into turmoil.
So what does this decision mean electorally? I reject the premise that this decision will rile the conservatives into some kind of anti Obama frenzy and make them desperate to vote for Romney for a couple of reasons. First of all bad feeling towards the Affordable Health Care Act has always been simmering on the surface of American conservatism up there with Islam and Communism. Its part of the reason the Democrats lost the house in 2010 and one of the perceived ‘intrusions’ into American liberty that helped to spawn the Tea Party movement. Those who are unlikely to vote for Obama because of ACA have already had their dissent registered in the current polling and Obama isn’t likely to actively lose any of his core vote over having had a major piece of his legislation upheld. Secondly Romney isn’t in the best position to be able to mop up any newly mobilised anti ACA troops if indeed there are any. Despite his promise to repeal the act on his very first day in the Oval Office, he isn’t seen as a strong conservative alternative by the GOP base and still suffers from a massive enthusiasm gap. This coupled with the fact that he was the architect of a very similar healthcare bill when he was Governor of Massachusetts means there is no guarantee that any newly ignited conservative activism over ACA is going to translate into votes for Romney come November. If anything I would think activism of this sort would be translated into a new flurry of support for local grassroots tea party candidates across America.
What about Obama? If its bad news for Romney does this mean its excellent news for Obama? Whilst the headlines will undoubtedly give Obama a boost, I’m not sure the ruling will have a substantial or long lasting effect on his poll numbers. There may be a scenario where previously disillusioned voters get a sprinkling of YES WE CAN magic but its unlikely to be significant in the grand scheme of things. Granted this decision is going to do more for the President than any other outcome would have, but the fact of the matter still remains that the ACA was not a popular policy to begin with and its not going to be a major focus of the Obama campaign leading up to the election. That this piece of legislation was never going to be electorally popular makes it even more remarkable still.
Only time will tell how much of an effect the Supreme Court decision yesterday will actually have on the election in November. I’m of the opinion that the upholding of the ACA is a massive victory for the Obama administration and the American people, it should be electorally significant and extending affordable healthcare coverage should be highlighted as one of Obama’s big achievements. However 5 months is a long time in politics, and before the election there are going to be any number of reports on the economy that will sweep this ruling under the rug. When we look back on this election I don’t think anyone will be saying ‘It was the ACA wot won it’…..on either side.
p.s YES WE CAN