by Robert Coon
Posted 2/19/2014 02:19 pm
Updated 2 weeks ago
It’s no secret that President Barack Obama is immensely unpopular in Arkansas. Recent surveys from a variety of sources have placed the president’s approval rating among frequent and likely voters incredibly low, from 29 percent in the Arkansas Poll to 34 percent in the recent Talk Business/Hendrix College poll.
These low numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone considering that Obama received roughly 39 percent of the vote from Arkansans in 2008 and 37 percent of the vote in 2012. He’s never been popular here, and it’s probably safe to predict that he never will be.
As we inch closer to the November general election, the president’s low approval ratings will be a key barometer; his unpopularity will undoubtedly have a “trickle down” effect on federal and state races in Arkansas. Barring drastic change in how Arkansas voters view Obamacare, the issue will remain a prime piece of political ammunition for those who oppose it, and a stumbling block for those on record for supporting it.
In the two most high profile races in Arkansas this election cycle — for U.S. Senate and governor — Democratic candidates have been facing an onslaught of criticism from opponents and outside political organizations over their support and connection to Obamacare. They’ve also faced backlash from the public at large, as more and more insured individuals have lost their current insurance plans, or encountered higher costs for less coverage.
Interestingly, the two candidates – U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, seeking re-election, and former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, running for governor – are tackling Obamacare in significantly different ways.
Pryor, who voted for the passage of Obamacare, has made the strategic decision to stand by his "yes" vote saying it was the "the right thing for Arkansas." Though in true pragmatic Pryor form, he’s suggested that Congress should make changes to the law to improve it.
The issue of supporting Obamacare is a more complex when it comes to Ross. Unlike Pryor, Ross voted against the comprehensive health care reform legislation on the House floor. But Ross and a handful of Blue Dog Democrats did vote in favor of HR 3200, the original health care reform bill, giving it the margin it needed for passage out of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and, as The Washington Post said at the time, helping it clear a "critical hurdle."
Ross’ camp contends that HR 3200 was a substantively different piece of legislation. But the truth is that it was later merged with several other pieces of legislation to create the final product we now know as Obamacare.
Some have argued that firm "no" from Ross and his Blue Dog colleagues could have derailed Obamacare before it left the station. It’s hard to fathom that an issue as large and encompassing as health care reform could move forward without the blessing of a major committee of jurisdiction like the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Had Ross and company not acquiesced to House leadership, it’s certainly possible that Obamacare could look drastically different than it does today, or could have even been prevented altogether. Thus, while Ross did eventually vote against the health care overhaul on the House floor, it’s disingenuous not to acknowledge his culpability in its creation.
Obamacare affects all of us – each in different ways. Some people will benefit from the legislation by finding government-subsidized coverage they previously couldn’t afford, and others by qualifying for insurance despite a pre-existing condition. Some parents will be able to keep their children on their family insurance plan a little while longer. Those are all positive changes that have come from Obamacare.
Unfortunately, not everyone is a winner. Millions of Americans have lost health coverage that they were perfectly happy with because of Obamacare’s new mandates and requirements. Some business owners will be subject to new fines and taxes for not covering their employees, and those will add up to billions of dollars. Individuals seeking coverage on the new Obamacare exchanges are finding plans that are more expensive and offer fewer benefits than the ones they currently have. Some find that while the health care overhaul doesn't affect them from a medical perspective, they’ll have to live with the promise of higher taxes and ever-increasing federal debt.
Obamacare is a defining political issue of our time — one that has far-reaching political consequences at all levels. We already know that it will be one of the most heavily utilized political attack strategies during the 2014 election cycle. And while candidates try to defend their positions on it, most voters will form their opinions based on how this law affects them personally. Are they better off or worse off than they were before?
Given the botched rollout and myriad problems to date, those that supported Obamacare, or aided in its passage, might not like the answer.
(Robert Coon is a partner at Impact Management Group, a public relations, public opinion and public affairs firm in Little Rock and Baton Rouge, La. You can follow him on Twitter at RobertWCoon. His column appears every other Wednesday in the weekly Government & Politics e-newsletter. You can subscribe for free here.)