Disastrous Obamacare Rollout Leaves Opinions on Law Weirdly Unchanged

If you had asked Republicans a few months ago what they hoped for from the first month of operation of the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges, they probably would have said, "It'd be great if the website doesn't work at all, and people get completely frustrated about it. And it'd be nice if the insurance companies chip in by sending people scary letters about policy cancellations. It'd be extra-great if the media then credulously reported on those letters without asking whether they're true, or saying much of anything about all the people who will benefit from the law. If that happens, Americans will surely turn against it en masse, and we'll be on our way to repealing it once and for all."

If that's what they wanted, they got it—at least until we get to the part about Americans turning against the ACA en masse. Things could hardly have gone worse in this stage of the rollout, and guess what: Americans' opinions about the law are, by all indications, exactly what they were before.

This is supported by every poll that has been taken in the last couple of weeks (Tara Culp-Ressler of Think Progress rounds some of them up here). To take just one example, here's the Kaiser tracking poll, which shows how stable opinions have been over the long term:

The last installment was taken in the third week of October, after all the problems had gotten plenty of attention. Forty-seven percent want to expand the law or keep it as it is, 37 percent want to repeal it, and the rest aren't sure. These numbers are all within a few points of where they've been for a couple of years now. So how do we account for the fact that all these difficulties and the avalanche of terrible press hasn't changed anything?

The most obvious answer is that the people who care deeply about the ACA already know what they think. Beyond that though, I think Republicans haven't been able to translate the problems of the last month into a change in opinion because their warnings were so apocalyptic that even what has gone wrong hasn't lived up to their hype. They used to say, "This law will destroy every last shred of our freedom!" and now they're saying, "The website should be working better!"

We should also keep in mind that most Americans don't pay all that much attention to the news. If you live in Washington and work in politics, you're keenly aware of all the negative coverage that the rollout has gotten. But the average American probably has only the vaguest idea that things have been problematic with Obamacare. They haven't followed it closely enough to alter what they thought about the law before.

I'm sure this is terribly disappointing for conservatives. Things could barely have gone worse, and this law they despise with such a boiling passion hasn't been reduced in the public esteem at all. Imagine what will happen when people begin to see benefits from it.

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