Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why Overturning the Mandate Could Benefit Obama

If you are a normal person, you probably just looked at this headline with deep skepticism.  After all, what could possibly be more damaging to President Obama’s re-election hopes than the Supreme Court ruling that the Individual Mandate is unconstitutional?

As it turns out, quite a lot.  The economy could go into a recession.  Israel could attack North Korea.  Gas prices could shoot to $6 a gallon.  Plenty of things could go wrong between now and November.  It could turn out that a ruling against Obamacare might not be all that bad, at least politically. 


To begin, if you have watched any of the GOP debates this cycle, you’ll probably notice that the issue the candidates campaigned on most (besides perhaps the economy) is President Obama’s health care reform.  Republican voters loathe the bill, and that one issue alone is enough for them to hold their nose to vote for Mr. Romney. 

But what happens if the GOP’s primary motivation to vote is suddenly taken away? If the court strikes down the individual mandate, why do Republican voters need to elect someone who has spent the last year campaigning to repeal it? 

Of course, I am not saying that GOP voters will stay home in November.  However, without the rally-cry that is the individual mandate, it is fair to say that the enthusiasm for electing Mr. Romney (which is already quite low for a presumed Presidential Nominee) would certainly decline. 

Enthusiasm is what gets supporters to canvass for the candidate, make phone calls, and above all, get out the vote efforts.  A drop in enthusiasm for a candidate (or party) can mean the difference of a couple percentage points at the polls (as witnessed among core groups of President Obama’s constituency during the midterm election). 

Further, if the Court were to strike down the individual mandate, liberal groups could become more enthusiastic towards re-electing the President.  After all, if the individual mandate is struck down, it is extremely unlikely that universal health care, a dream of liberals for generations, would ever become reality.

Republicans Would Own Health Care

As James Carville recently (and brilliantly) pointed out, if the conservative majority of the Supreme Court strikes down the heart of Obamacare, conservatives would then “own” the issue.  Therefore, if costs and premiums continue to increase, as more and more people are uninsured, the Democrats can (unfairly or not) easily blame the Republicans. 

Will costs and number of uninsured rise?  Probably, judging by the trend-line.  Would they have risen if the Affordable Care Act had survived?  It doesn’t matter.  Counterfactuals rarely influence perceptions in politics.  People will be caring about what is happening at the present, and they will be looking for someone to blame. 

The Mandate is Unpopular

The individual mandate is by far the most unpopular part of President Obama’s health care reform bill.  In fact, most other parts of the bill are widely popular among the electorate. 

President Obama, after spending a year trying to pass the bill certainly couldn’t now come out against the individual mandate… but the Supreme Court can.  If this were to happen, the President could spend his time campaigning on the remaining part of the bill that is popular.

The Market May React Favorably

One of the biggest claims conservatives have made over the past two years is that businesses aren’t hiring because of “uncertainty” due to Obamacare and them having to cover all their employees.  If that argument is true, then overturning the ACA should spur an increase in hiring among businesses, particularly small businesses. 

Everybody knows the election will be decided based mainly on the shape of the economy come election day.  The past 4 months have produced high job growth, which has inflated President Obama’s job approval ratings.  If businesses were to begin hiring in mass, the economy could grow beyond economists’ current expectations while simultaneously lowering the unemployment rate. 

As Nate Silver pointed out on his blog, if job growth were to remain constant or even increased from where it currently stands, President Obama would be a heavy favorite to win in November.


This is not all to say that overturning the mandate will only positively affect Mr. Obama.  If it is overturned, President Obama will surely be bludgeoned for spending much of his first year passing a law that turned out to be unconstitutional.  However, it is not all doom and gloom for the President.  Politically, it’s just quite possible that the President could win if he loses.

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