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Supreme Court’s ACA Decision Polarizes, Doesn’t Persuade

- July 2, 2012

Before the Court’s decision came down, I predicted:

bq. How will the public react?  I have written on this previously here and here.  Do not expect public opinion about the ACA to change very much in reaction to the decision.  Public opinion about the ACA has been quite stable and polarized along party lines since forever.  See Dan Hopkins’s graphs, Scott Clement’s graphs, and this paper by Douglas Kriner and Andrew Reeves.  Supreme Court decisions, rather than providing an authoritative and persuasive statement on the issue, often simply polarize people further.  In this case, I expect the Court’s decision to be the subject of continued partisan debate, making continued polarization in public opinion likely.

A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll is out.  Here is a summary (pdf).  Here is the pertinent finding:

Many observers have wondered in recent days whether the Supreme Court’s ruling would change overall views on the longcontested law itself, or alternately if the decision would galvanize the intensity of one political party more than the other. This early snapshot of opinion suggests that, at least in the first days after the court ruling, the overall shape of public opinion on the ACA hasn’t changed, with the public still split at 41 percent favorable, 41 percent unfavorable, and 18 percent undecided. The partisan divide that lies beneath is also unchanged. What did change, however, is the intensity of Democratic support for the measure. While still outstripped by Republicans’ overwhelmingly strong opposition to the law, the proportion of Democrats that say they have “very favorable” views of the law jumped from 31 percent in May to 47 percent this month, an all‐time high in Kaiser polling stretching back two years.

In other words: polarization.

Among independents who do not lean toward a political party, support for the law increased 6 points, which is likely not statistically significant (although it bears watching the ongoing trend among this group).  See the seventh slide here (pdf).

Given that the majority of independents say that “opponents of the law should stop their efforts to block the law and move on to other national problems,” the implication for Romney may simply be: talk about something else.  Which is what he seems to want to do anyway.  More reason, as Brendan Nyhan discussed, that the Court’s decision, however important for policy, is not a political turning point in terms of the campaign.