Jeffrey H. Anderson is a writer for The Weekly Standard and a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.
The verdict now seems to be in on the Romney campaign's strategy of generally avoiding making the case against Obamacare and choosing not to make President Obama's defining legislation a defining issue in this campaign. That strategy plainly seems to have benefited both Obamacare and Obama, and it likely goes a long way toward explaining Romney's struggles in the polls. Moreover, given how much each party relies on its presidential nominee to make the case for its side, it may also help explain why Rasmussen's polling of likely voters now shows Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot for only the second time in the 88 weeks since Republicans took control of the House.
The good news, however, is that we're still almost two full months from Election Day, so there remains plenty of time for Romney's campaign to adopt a strategy on Obamacare that's more conducive both to victory and to repeal.
Since Obamacare was passed into law in March 2010, Rasmussen has conducted 109 polls on whether Americans want to repeal it. Support for repeal has outpaced opposition to repeal in all 109 polls, thereby giving Obamacare a win-loss record of 0-109 and making it the poster child for unpopular legislation. Moreover, this polling has consistently shown independents to be every bit as supportive of repeal as voters as a whole — and often even more so. None of this should be surprising to Republicans, as they rode their firm opposition to Obamacare to a historic electoral victory less than two years ago, largely on the basis of strong support from independent voters.
The Romney campaign's strategy is aimed at appealing to independents. Yet by not making the case against Obamacare, Romney is rapidly losing independents on this issue.
On July 7-8, Rasmussen's polling showed that independents supported the repeal of Obamacare by a margin of 19 percentage points (56 to 37 percent). By a 27-point margin (56 to 29 percent), they thought Obamacare was bad, rather than good, for the country. Exactly two months later, on September 7-8, after a Republican convention in which Obamacare was relegated to an afterthought in prime time (except by Paul Ryan), and a Democratic convention in which Obama was praised as caring and courageous for ignoring the clear wishes of the American people and spearheading Obamacare's passage, independents now oppose repeal by a margin of 9 percentage points (52 to 43 percent). By a 7-point margin they now think Obamacare is good, rather than bad, for the country. That's a 28-point swing on repeal, and a 34-point swing on whether Obamacare would be good or bad for the country, in just two months — among the voting block that will likely decide this election.
Why is this happening? Independents can tell that President Obama badly wants to keep Obamacare in place. When Romney chooses not to emphasize it, the sense that comes through is that he doesn't really think it's all that important to repeal it. Using the two candidates as the poles, centrists therefore surmise that the right position on Obamacare must be somewhere between strongly supporting it and tepidly opposing it. If they split the difference (they are, after all, centrists), they'll end up supporting it.
And if they end up supporting it, they'll likely end up supporting Obama. As most any conservative could tell you, the worst aspect of Obama's presidency has been his spearheading of Obamacare. As most any liberal would tell you, the best aspect of Obama's presidency has been his spearheading of Obamacare. As most any independent can tell you, the most important aspect of Obama's presidency has been his spearheading of Obamacare. And these independents' votes will likely be decided by whether they think the most important aspect of Obama's presidency is a good or a bad thing.