Thinking about the unthinkable, Part Two

As I mentioned on Friday, a very recent poll conducted by Suffolk University shows that 51 percent of likely voters in Massachusetts oppose Obamacare while only 36 percent favor of it. This breakdown, even if accurate, isn’t going to sweep Scott Brown to victory by itself. After all, half of Massachusetts’ likely voters either favor Obamacare or don’t know whether they favor it or not. However, the poll does indicate that Brown has a considerable advantage on what must be the single most important issue in the campaign.
In addition, the Suffolk poll, if accurate, shows that there has been significant movement on this issue in the past few months and helps explain Brown’s remarkable rise. In late November 2009, a Rasmussen poll showed 51 percent of likely Massachusetts voters in favor of Obamacare and 47 percent opposed. More than a month later, a Boston Globe poll still showed that a plurality in Massachusetts favored Obamacare.
If sentiment in Massachusetts has really changed so much so quickly, that shift presumably is one of the main reasons why Brown has made up so much ground in such a short time. But why would sentiment on health care have changed so radically?
As an opponent of Obamacare, it’s tempting to say that the more voters — even In Massachusetts — learn about the substance of the Democrats’ plan, the less they inevitably will like it. However, the basic substance of health care reform has been known and debated for months. Indeed, the town hall meetings that focused so much attention on the issue occurred in the summer. The substance of the bill hasn’t changed enough in the last month and a half to explain a large shift in public sentiment.
I believe that, to the extent the Democrats’ health care plan has lost significant support in the past month and a half, it is mostly because of procedural, rather than substantive concerns. For example, it has not been lost on Massachusetts voters that Obamacare has not gained the support of a single Republican Senator. In fact, there has not even been a serious flirtation with RINOs Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of whom are respected in liberal Massachusetts.
In addition, many voters in Massachusetts and elsewhere know of the “Louisiana Purchase” and the “Cornhusker Kickback,” and are now learning about the sweetheart deal for unions. Under these corrupt circumstances, it’s natural that the legislation has lost popularity.
The recent procedural farce probably plays into Brown’s hands in ways that that substantive concerns could not in liberal Massachusetts. Massachusetts voters aren’t likely to reject Coakley just because she’s a down-the-line liberal on the issues, including health care. But they might reject her if they think that liberal Democrats in Congress are acting recklessly and abusively, and need to be reined in a little bit. In this context, electing a center-left Republican who is committed to voting against the symbol of Democratic recklessness and abuse starts to look like a pretty good option.
Finally, if 10 of 17 Massachusetts likely voters with an opinion on Obamacare really oppose it, what must public sentiment be elsewhere? It’s not difficult to believe that, nationally, 11 of 17 might oppose Obamacare and that in many jurisdictions the split might be 2 to 1. If these ratios or anything close to them prevail, Scott Brown won’t be the only Republican to come out of nowhere in 2010.

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