Democrats assumed earlier this year that ObamaCare would be a political advantage by Election Day. North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, for example, said in February she wanted to show the Affordable Care Act “is something whose time is come.” A month later Colorado Sen. Mark Udall said “we did the right thing” in passing the law and told voters he “would do it again,” a response echoed by incumbents Mark Pryor (Arkansas) and Mary Landrieu (Louisiana).
It isn’t working out that way. As the election nears, ObamaCare is re-emerging as a major liability for the Democratic Senate that passed it. According to an Oct. 2 Gallup survey, 54% of Americans said the Affordable Care Act had hurt them and their families compared to 27% who said it had helped them.
The White House understands this, so it is not trumpeting the upcoming open-enrollment period when people can sign up for health coverage. Nor are White House officials crowing about last year’s eight million sign-ups, probably because insurance industry officials suggest that 10% or more never fully enrolled by paying their premiums.
Worse for the administration and Democratic candidates, Americans are receiving a steady stream of bad ObamaCare news as the election approaches. The millions enrolled in ObamaCare are being told their premiums will increase next year. According to a recent Manhattan Institute report, premiums for a 40-year-old man are rising in 10 of the 12 states with Democratic-held Senate seats at risk. For a 40-year-old woman, premiums will increase in nine of the 12. Most premium increases will be in double digits.
Then there are the cancellations. In Colorado, for example, the insurance commissioner recently announced that 28,911 people covered by 22,000 policies would lose their insurance at year’s end. This is in addition to 8,200 policies canceled or marked for cancellation earlier this year. Added to last year’s terminations, this means as many as 340,000 Coloradans have lost or will lose their plan, even if they liked it.
In Colorado, New Hampshire and other states, people are being shifted from their plan to another and insurance providers are withdrawing from some states, reducing their choices.
All of this creates anxiety, uncertainty and anger, combining to keep opposition to ObamaCare high. Just 40% said the law was “mostly a good thing for the country” in an Oct. 14 Fox News Poll while 52% said it was “mostly a bad thing for the country.” ObamaCare may also have helped Republicans fight off the Democratic “war on women” campaign theme. Women are often in charge of a family’s health care, and in the Fox survey women disapproved of ObamaCare 46% to 45%.
ObamaCare may have a broader impact on the election by adding to concerns the government is too big and Washington is doing too much. When Americans were asked in a Sept. 7 Gallup survey if “government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses” or if “government should do more to solve our country’s problems,” 54% picked government doing too much and 41% government doing too little.
In that same poll, when asked “how much trust and confidence” they have in our federal government and Washington when it comes to handling domestic problems, 42% answered “not very much” and 17% said “none at all.” The first figure was a record high for this question, which Gallup began asking in May 1972. The latter figure tied record lows in September 2011 and 2013.
The Affordable Care Act alone is not responsible for all this distrust. But on top of all the rest—the anemic economy, the Veterans Affairs scandal, the wave of illegal immigrants that crossed the southern border this summer, IRS targeting of conservatives, the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-running program, early missteps on the Ebola virus and spreading chaos and disorder in the world—ObamaCare has contributed to undermining people’s confidence in the liberal vision of a beneficent, effective, all-knowing, all-doing centralized state.
This issue is now baked in and little is required to remind voters. Even a TV ad tagline about how often a senator (or congressman) votes with Mr. Obama is sufficient. It would be rough justice if ObamaCare caused the defeat of a large number of Democrats who voted for it.
Democrats created ObamaCare, passed it, own it, and will suffer because of it. The holy grail of liberalism for decades, the president’s health law may end up as a decisive cause of two epic midterm defeats for the Democratic Party.
A version of this article appeared October 23, 2014, in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline ObamaCare Returns As An Election Albatross and online at WSJ.com.