Obamacare Public Perception Prognosis: It’s Not Boredom

Obamacare boredom has struck, Sarah Kliff states in a Washington Post blog. Americans are no longer interested in learning about the law, and reporters no longer want to cover it. Kliff displays the dissipating interest with two Google graphs. One, indicates that “Healthcare.gov,” “Obamacare,” and “Affordable Care Act,” have steadily fallen as Google search terms since October. The other compares the number of times the buzzwords were mentioned in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Washington Post. October had the most mentions, but it was all downhill from there.

Kliff believes this is what success for Obamacare will look like, whether it is occurring now, or will happen down the road. “There will be no ticker-tape parades, front-page stories, or skyrocketing poll numbers. It will be people using insurance and the press focusing on other things.”

But is it really boredom or success? Can the interest of the American people be accurately gauged using a Google graph search? And what about other factors? Covering political matters requires covering politicians. If politicians are not talking exclusively about health care, there will not exclusively be healthcare related stories.

On Wednesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told House Republicans they want immigration reform on the 2014 agenda. Democrats have an agenda focused on social programs, saying that Obamacare will not be a main factor in the 2014 midterms. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) outlined what a Democratic strategy for 2014 could look like in a conference call covered by Politico. “Our Republican colleagues should take note. Certainly we’re going to build on the progress we’ve made to reduce the deficit, but it is no longer the most important issue that we face,” Schumer said.

“Issues like job creation, minimum wage, and unemployment insurance are going to weigh on the minds of voters far more than Obamacare by the time the 2014 elections roll around.” Furthermore, dwindling interest in Googling Obamacare doesn’t mean that health care is not a priority among Americans. A recent poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has several healthcare-related findings, which indicate Americans are not sloughing off the issue.

First, respondents were asked to list the issues they think the government ought to work on in 2014. People could list as many issues as they wanted, but ultimately, the pollsters focused on the top ten; 52 percent of those polled included health care in their first ten issues. A full ten percentage points ahead of the next most commonly listed issue: unemployment.

The researchers then took the responses, and asked people how much energy needed to be devoted to working on that issue. The majority, 68 percent, want “a lot/or a great deal of effort” to be spent improving the health care system; 16 percent see the need for a moderate effort, and only 14 percent said nothing should be done. The issues ranking higher than healthcare reform in terms of effort included “improving the way government functions,” and “reducing the federal deficit.” “Protecting the future of Social Security” tied with healthcare.

The poll asked about the confidence people had in government’s ability to accomplish the tasks they had laid out. Healthcare is a priority for a majority of Americans, and a majority — 69 percent — do not see the government as capable of addressing their concerns.

So perhaps “boredom” isn’t the correct diagnosis, and “malaise” might be better suited to describe how Americans are viewing healthcare. Defined as “a vague sense of mental or moral ill-being,” malaise captures the distrust in government’s ability to function documented in multiple areas by the AP-NORC poll.

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