Obamacare Outlook: Media’s Influence on Public Perception

Washington DC

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The tide is changing in the media, with more stories putting Democrats on the Obamacare offensive team. At least, this is the view of Washington Post liberal blogger Greg Sargent. He cites a New York Times discussion on how Democrats will be publicizing the benefits of the law, a CBS report about an improved HealthCare.gov, and other indicators, like economic growth that will propel the Democrats to election victory in 2014.

Sargent also makes mention of an interview Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recently had with a Las Vegas news channel. In the interview, Reid alluded to the Affordable Care Act as being a potential asset to Democrats running in 2014. “This is something that America needed,” he told News 3. ”We cannot have health care just for people with money. … I think it’s going to be good for them.”

Many of these sentiments echo those House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) voiced on Meet the Press in November. “I don’t think you can tell what will happen next year. But I will tell you this: Democrats stand tall in support of the Affordable Care Act,” Pelosi said during the program. “We have great candidates who are running, who are concerned about our economy, and are concerned that government was shut down because of a whim on the part of the Republicans, costing us $25 billion to our economy and 0.6 percent of our GDP growth.”

It’s sunny optimism, but is it justified? A recent Gallup poll indicates that those who identified as “familiar” with the Affordable Care Act are more likely to disapprove of it. Of those polled, 54 percent disapproved and 40 percent approved. For those familiar with the law, the disapproval rating increased to 59 percent, while the approval statistics stayed the same.

Those in the 18- to 29-year-old demographic are most likely to be unaware of what the law entails, with 37 percent saying they were not familiar with it at all. A CNN/ORC poll asked adults who they would vote for in their Congressional district if the 2014 midterms were held today; 48 percent said a Republican and 41 percent would favor a Democrat. Of independents, 53 percent said a Republican and 36 percent said a Democrat.

After a meeting between White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Chair Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), The Hill consulted Democratic staffers on their perception of health care politics on the hill.

One aide commented on the heightened levels of nerves: “I mean, all of their jobs are on the line because this is the thing making the biggest waves lately. It’s a nightmare.”

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however — fewer errors in the website “has dialed down rhetoric on all sides,” according to another staffer who spoke to The Hill, who said there is “cautious optimism” among Democratic members of the Senate. “There are still other things that need to be addressed.”

The Post’s Sargent is right that the tone of the media can influence public perception, but like the Senate staffer said, there are still other issues to deal with, and how those play out will affect public perception, as well.

If the Democratic push to promote the health care law’s benefits triumph over Reid’s decision to allow his staff members to retain their federal employee insurance plans, avoiding the exchanges, that could weigh positively in Obamacare’s favor. On the other hand, if allegations that people will be unable to keep their doctors under the new health care law come to fruition, a new hurdle may be presented for supporters of the reform.

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