After much bluster from Republicans last week about how the Supreme Court‘s Obamacare decision would be a 2012 election game-changer, it’s starting to look as though the Romney campaign won’t, in fact, make Obamacare a central part of its message. This should not be a big surprise. Yes, viewed from certain angles, health care looks like a winning issue for Romney. The law is unpopular, especially among all-important independent voters. It certainly motivates the GOP base. But in the few days since John Roberts’ jurisprudential razzle-dazzle, the law has already grown more popular, and given that many voters aren’t even aware yet that the court has upheld the law, its standing may have still more room to grow.
Meanwhile, some conservatives have called for a frontal political assault on the law based on some faulty political history. Outrage over Obamacare, they argue, was a prime reason why Republicans blew out Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections. Dick Morris, the Former Clinton White House adviser turned Fox News demagogue/huckster, argues that “The Supreme Court decision makes Obamacare the central issue in the 2012 election, just like it was in the 2010 election. And we know how that turned out.” Not quite. In truth, precious few voters considered health care the “central issue” of the 2010 midterms. The exit polls showed that 62 percent of voters named the economy as the issue they cared about most. Health care was a distant second, at 19 percent.
Today, polls show that voters’ priorities haven’t changed–people care a whole lot more about jobs and the economy then they do about health care. And while they may not be crazy about Obamacare, the subject of health care in general is not a clear winner for the GOP. A June 21 Pew poll found the public actually prefers Obama over Romney on health care by a slight 45-44 margin. And that was before the Supreme Court’s pro-Obama ruling.
Until now, Romney has been focused relentlessly on the economy. And that’s a different story. Pew shows Romney with an eight-point advantage on that front, 49-41. And while pundits obsess about Roberts’ decision, most Americans probably care more about an ominous manufacturing slump and a Friday jobs report that is “universally expected to be weak.”
To recap: Voters care far more about the economy than they do about health care. Their perceptions of Obamacare are improving, while their perceptions of the economy are worsening. Romney ties Obama on the health care debate but clobbers him on economic issues. Bearing in mind that a winning White House campaign probably has to be about more than the economy, it’s not clear that diverting from jobs to health care is a smart thing for Romney to do.