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Richard Kirsch Headshot

Mandate to Repeal Health Care Is a Republican Pipe Dream

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Cross-posted from New Deal 2.0.

The negative headlines are to be expected. Today's Politico says "Health care 'nos' help Dems at risk" above an article that tells a different story: half of the Democrats who voted no went down to defeat.

And Republicans can be expected to say that the vote is a mandate for repeal. As Eric Cantor told CBS news last night, "So I believe that when we take majority in January, I hope that we're able to put a repeal bill on the floor right away because that's what the American people want..."

But it just isn't so. Here are two incontrovertible facts from yesterday's election:

1) There was absolutely no relationship between how a House member voted on health care and whether they were reelected.

2) Even in this very conservative electorate, the exit polls do not show majority support, let alone a mandate, for repeal.

Democrats had a bad night, but it didn't matter how a member voted on health care. Take a look at three neighboring Congressional districts in upstate New York, all of which have more registered Republicans than Democrats. Bill Owens voted for health care and won. Scott Murphy voted 'no' in November and then 'yes' on the final health care bill, but lost. His colleague Michael Arcuri voted for the bill in November but then voted 'no' in March, and he too lost. Moving downstate, to the New York metropolitan area, it is also clear that there is no evidence that a health care vote mattered. 'No' voter Michael McMahon lost, as did 'yes' voter John Hall, while another health care supporter, Tim Bishop, won.

Elections in other states tell the same story. There's been a lot made of the defeat of first-term Democrat Tom Perriello, a health care supporter who squeaked into office by a few hundred votes in 2008. But two Virginians who voted no on health care, longtime Congressman Rich Boucher and newly elected Glenn Nye, also lost.

In Ohio, Zack Space voted 'no' and lost, while John Boccieri voted 'yes' and also won't be coming back to Washington. In New Mexico, Harry Teague's 'no' vote didn't stave off defeat any more than Harry Mitchell's 'yes' vote in Arizona caused his political demise.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. Voters had something else in mind (the economy, stupid) besides health care when they cast their ballots.

There was a group of voters for whom health care was a top concern -- 18% of the electorate according to the exit polls. A majority of these voters, 55%, favored Democratic candidates, as opposed to 45% who voted for Republicans.

As far as a mandate for repeal, there's no such thing. Even among the most conservative electorate in years, just under half (48%) favored repeal. An equal proportion opposed repeal with almost one-third (31%) actually saying that the law should be expanded!

We can't expect reality to interfere with the Republican's intense desire to roll back a health care law that represents the biggest expansion of the social contract in this country in decades. But Democrats shouldn't be cowed when the Republicans claim a mandate for repeal. The voters, even this frustrated, angry bunch, said no such thing.

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