The Health Care Spectator

The Fallout of Obamacare’s Rollout

Obamacare rollout causes rating reversal.

By 11.25.13

In one month, Obamacare’s “fumbled” rollout has undone the Democrats’ fiscal fight gains. For the White House, things have been even worse. These sudden reversals of fortune are unlike anything seen arising from US policy in some time, and they may be a long time away, from being reversed.

Polling numbers show the shockingly swift change that has overtaken Washington’s political landscape. Using Rasmussen polling data, and looking at three dates from this fall — October 1, the start of the government shutdown; October 17, the reopening of the federal government; and November 17, a month after the government’s reopening — the picture of rapid reversal appears.

Date Strong Approval Strong DisapprovalNet   Total Approval Total DisapprovalNet
10/1 30% -37%-7%  52% -47%+5%
10/17 29% -42%-13%  48% -50%-2%
11/17 23% -43%-20%  45% -53%-8%


Obama entered the government shutdown with a deficit in his strong approval/disapproval rating and a surplus in his total approval/disapproval rating, which almost offset each other. During the shutdown’s roughly two weeks, Obama’s strong approval dipped slightly, while his strong disapproval climbed 5%. At the same time, his overall approval dropped 4%, while his total disapproval climbed 3%, leaving him with a net -2% total approval rating. 

In the month since the government reopened, Obama’s strong approval rating has dropped a further 6%, leaving him with a net -20% rating. Simultaneously, his total approval dropped and his total disapproval increased, leaving him with a net -8% total approval rating.

Although Democrats have not fared as badly as Obama, they have seen their sizeable advantages — both entering, and during, the fiscal standoff — disappear. On the generic ballot question (which party voters would choose generically, disregarding specific candidates), the key dates are 9/29/12 (right before the government shutdown began), 10/20/13 (right after the government reopened), and 11/17/13 (one month after the government reopened).

Date Democrat Republican
9/29 42% 38%
10/20 43% 36%
11/17 39% 40%

Two crucial points jump out from the presidential approval and generic ballot comparisons. 

First, Obama was not particularly strong heading into the fiscal faceoff. Considering his recent performance both at the polls and in the polls, this should not be surprising; however, it is still frequently overlooked.

At the polls, Obama was the first president, since FDR in 1944, to win reelection with a smaller percentage of the popular vote than he did in his previous election. More significantly, Obama was the first president, since we have had reliable records of popular vote percentages, to see his reelection to a second term fall below his first election’s percentage. 

In the polls, there has also been an inherent weakness for some time. Obama has regularly elicited a stronger negative reaction than he does a positive reaction. Other than in his Inauguration month of January, this year’s Rasmussen polling shows Obama only twice (in February) reaching as high 33% in his strong approval rating. 

Contrastingly, only twice has Obama’s strong disapproval rating fallen as low as 32% this year — both times in January. Obama has yet to have a net positive rating in his strong approval/disapproval rating this year and only twice this year have the two reached a net balance — the last time being in early February. 

Obama’s stronger polling area is in his total approval/disapproval rating. However, even here he was not particularly strong — especially for a president in his second term’s first year. Outside the month of his Inauguration, just three times this year has Obama had a double-digit advantage in his total approval/disapproval rating. 

Second, while Obama has been precariously popular this year, Democrats have held a consistent edge in the generic ballot question. Prior to the focus on the Obamacare rollout, only five times this year have Republicans led on the generic ballot question — only once reaching as high as a 3% advantage, with all the rest being by just 1%. 

The Obamacare rollout has particularly hurt the president, who could ill afford it, but it has also allowed Republicans, who desperately needed it, to take a generic ballot lead they have rarely attained recently.

In short order, the ACA’s rollout has not simply eclipsed the fiscal fight for respondents, it has effectively turned a Democrat advantage into a Republican advantage. It has taken just one month of focus on Obamacare for it to happen.

Rarely do we see a policy fight turn so against one party, so quickly. All this underscores that the administration must quickly fix the Obamacare system. If it is not, the administration risks facing not just an even stiffer Republican opposition, but Democratic defections — and Democrats face losses, if they don’t defect.

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About the Author

J.T. Young served in the Department of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a Congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.