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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Re-Messaging HCR Mandate Wins Public Support

You know that widely-accepted meme that the public strongly opposes The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that nearly all Americans purchase health insurance, the one that has been used to help drive the effort to repeal or overturn the law? Turns out that it’s not true when polls put the question to the public with a critical missing piece of information. As Sarah Kiff reports at Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog in “Messaging the Individual Mandate,” her post on the new Kaiser Family Foundation poll, conducted 12/8-13 and released today:

Kaiser found, as a baseline, 65 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the health reform law’s mandated purchase of health insurance. But among those, they found the majority would flip to a positive opinion when they were told that Americans with employer-sponsored insurance really wouldn’t have to deal with the mandate.

In other words, when the public is properly informed about how the “mandate” actually works, you get a strong majority, 61 percent supporting it, with only 34 percent still opposed. Other pieces of information also significantly reduced unfavorable attitudes toward the legislation. Reminding the public that without the mandate, people could “wait until they are seriously ill before buying health insurance, which will drive up costs for everyone” gets support for the law up to 47 percent, with 45 percent still opposed. Telling respondents that no one would be held to the mandate “if the cost of new coverage would consume too large a share of their income” gets the favorable support up to 49 percent, with 45 percent still opposed.
It may seem a little late to be thinking about re-messaging the individual mandate, with the Supreme Court set to rule on it mid-2012. But it is important for Dems to learn the lesson and pay more attention to different ways of messaging reforms, and specifically how to counter-punch when a reform is oversimplified in the opposition’s attacks.
Moreover, it seems to me that very little effort was put into explaining the law to the public after it was passed. The attitude seemed to be, “well, we got that one passed. Now let’s move on to the next fight.” Even though many people were weary of the whole debate, we didn’t really finish the job of explaining the new law in a way that would elicit strong majority support. A simple FAQs mailer to every home could have helped. Let’s not make that mistake again.

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