WASHINGTON, January 22, 2014 — The Obama Administration’s rocky implementation of the Affordable Care Act has made the Republican Party increasingly optimistic in the early days of 2014. Each piece of bad Obamacare news has helped cement “Winning the Senate” as the top item on the GOP’s New Year’s resolution list.
And why not? With every failure, the fissures in President Obama’s electoral coalition widen a bit more. Those cracks were on display in December polls. Millenials don’t like the law – 56 percent disapprove, according to one survey from the Harvard Institute of Politics. The president’s approval ratings are falling among Latino and Hispanic voters, says a Gallup poll; Obama’s 52 percent mark reflects a 23 percent drop in the past year.
This news is encouraging for Republican election prospects. It also comes with an important to-do list. Just because people are frustrated with Democrats doesn’t mean they will run into the Republicans’ open arms.
How can candidates running in 2014 make the most of the Obamacare moment?
The media might cover political races just like sports, but Obamacare is not an ill-timed fumble or strikeout. This is a critical policy failure with real-world implications. The law has cancelled policies and forced people to pay even more for the coverage they have. Striking the right tone will be essential for any serious candidate.
Sure, it’s embarrassing that the executive branch of the most powerful nation on Earth could not build a working website. That makes for great late-night monologue fodder, and it puts egg squarely on the faces of big-government Democrats. But the real issue is that the people getting the 404s need the insurance for themselves and their families.
This isn’t a game. People are hurting.
Wise candidates running in 2014 will remember this, and strike a more empathetic tone when asking Obamacare’s victims for their vote.
2. Listen and Engage
With each snake-bitten rollout phase, Obamacare seems to affect more people negatively. Many Republican officeholders and organizations have built websites and landing pages to allow people to share their stories.
That’s a good start. The next level is to pay careful attention to social media conversations, such as tweets and Facebook posts.
Venting frustration through social media channels has become more common. Many people do so publicly, the equivalent of standing on a street corner soapbox to tell the world that increased health insurance premiums are an unfair burden on an already-tight family budget.
The world may not seem to be listening, but if it’s a public post, a candidate sure could. Not only is that person a potential voter, but the way people are talking about the health insurance law can help a smart candidate better understand the specific needs of his or her constituents. That person may also be less interested in politics; standing on the right side of health care issues could also give Republicans a chance to expand the electorate and bring folks to the polls who would not otherwise vote.
People are much more likely to take to their own Facebook or Twitter account and sound off publicly than to log onto a Senate candidate’s website to share their story.
Technology allows campaigns to listen carefully to social media chatter. Obamacare is the type of political issue that inspires conversation – not only among political operatives and pundits, but among everyone affected by the law. Campaigns should spend the early part of the year tuning into that buzz.
When the politicking really heats up during the summer and early fall, all this listening will pay off. Slick television commercials and expensive ad buys may help keep messages out there, but they won’t bring people to the polls. The social media chatter happening right now could, if properly monitored and tracked, form the basis of a get-out-the-vote list in November.
In a tight race, listening early will help a campaign late.
3. Stand for “Health Care Reform” – Not “Repealing Obamacare”
Obamacare is now the law of the land. That means the Republican Party will be the party of change and reform in November.
In 2012, President Obama managed to be the “hope and change” candidate despite his incumbency while painting the GOP as the party of regression. With campaign rhetoric that centered on undoing the President’s mistakes, Republicans didn’t help themselves.
There is a difference between going back to the drawing board and charting a new course, and voters tend to side with the latter. The concept of repealing Obamacare polls well, but that’s a trap. To make gains in Congress, Republicans must embrace the language of reform.
The public won’t go to the polls in November simply to punish the architects of Obamacare. They want to vote for someone who can fix the problem – and make the bad news stop.