In a post titled "Proof That Obamacare Sunk the Democrats—Even Though It Saved Their Souls", William Galston attempts to show that health-care reform -- which he acknowledges was "morally correct" -- is what was behind the party's big loss. This isn't too surprising coming from Galston, a centrist to whom the media often turn for a reliable quote explaining how Democrats are being incredibly foolish by pursuing progressive policies. But his argument here is singularly unpersuasive:
When asked an open-ended question about the factors that had the biggest influence on their votes, 17 percent of respondents named health care. Of those voters, 58 percent had an unfavorable view of the health-reform law, 58 percent thought it would make the country worse off, and 56 percent thought it would leave them and their families worse off. Not surprisingly, health care voters went for Republican over Democratic candidates by a margin of 59 percant to 35 percent. (Non health-care voters were divided 44 percent to 44 percent.)...
Putting all these data together, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the health-reform bill had an independent impact on Democrats in the midterm election, reducing their support below the level to which the economy alone would have depressed it. A back-of-the envelope calculation suggests that health care voters contributed about 10 percent points to the Republicans’ share of the vote and only 6 percent to Democrats—a gap of 4 percentage points. No doubt a more sophisticated statistical analysis (which I hope someone will perform) would refine this estimate. But it is unlikely that this analysis would come close to eliminating the independent effect of health care on the outcome of the election.
From what I can tell, he gets that 10 percent of the Republicans' vote attributable to health care by multiplying the 17 percent who named health care as their top issue by the 59 percent of these "health care voters" who voted Republican (.17 x .59 = .10; the 6 percent is .17 x .35 = .06). This, supposedly, is the amount Democrats' support was reduced "below the level to which the economy alone would have depressed it." See the problem here?
The problem is that if you're going to say that this is what accounted for the vote, you're assuming that this 10 percent of voters might have voted Democratic, had it not been for the conclusion they drew about health care. And there is absolutely no reason to assume that's true. How many of them are Republicans, or Republican-leaning independents? If the answer is "most" -- which I'd bet anything it is -- then all you've demonstrated is that a bunch of people who were going to vote Republican no matter what will now tell a pollster that the thing that made them the most mad about Democratic rule was health care. That's about a million miles from "proof that Obamacare sunk the Democrats."
I'll give Galston the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn't write the headline. But if he wants to show that Democrats lost because they passed health-care reform, he's going to have to do a lot better than that.
-- Paul Waldman