POLITICS
12/19/2017 07:12 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2017

Obamacare Plagued Democrats In 2010. The GOP Just Voted For A Bill Even Less Popular.

Is it a win to pass legislation that most people don't like?

Republican lawmakers’ massive tax plan appears to be on the cusp of legislative victory. From a public opinion standpoint, that may not be such a good thing.

The tax bill, if enacted, would be among the least popular pieces of major legislation signed into law since the 1990s. Support for the bill stands at an average of about 32 percent, according to current polls, with nearly half of the public opposed.

In retrospect, support for the Affordable Care Act when it was newly enacted looks downright robust. When President Barack Obama’s health care law passed in March 2010, it faced similar levels of opposition, but considerably higher levels of favor: On average, about 42 percent of Americans supported it. Yet even those comparatively rosy numbers were enough to leave Democrats ducking furious constituents and, according to some research, helped doom the party to a historic midterm election defeat later that year.

Today’s tax bill fares at least as badly when compared to the Affordable Care Act on other measures. Just 27 percent of Americans in CNN’s most recent survey think that President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans made a good faith effort to cooperate with Democrats on the tax bill. In 2010, 48 percent thought that President Obama and the Democrats had reached across the aisle on health care reform.

According to a poll taken around the time the Affordable Care Act was passed, 35 percent of Americans expected the legislation to hurt them personally. The tax plan faces similarly inauspicious numbers — 32 percent expect it to make things worse for them according to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, while 37 percent say the same in CNN’s survey. According to two other polls, from Quinnipiac University and Monmouth University, between 44 and 50 percent of respondents expect their own taxes to rise.

Changing that narrative may prove difficult. In a survey conducted by Republican pollsters for a pro-Trump organization, only half of the voters in GOP-held congressional districts support the plan, even after being “introduced to key features of the bill” and “hearing the messages on both sides of the tax reform debate.” Even among Americans who’ll see their taxes fall, there’s no guarantee that they’ll notice — or that they’ll look more fondly on the Republicans’ effort.

Republicans may instead be hoping that when voters head to the ballot box next year, the tax bill isn’t at the top of many minds.

There are strong reasons to think Republicans will get that wish. In the HuffPost/YouGov poll, barely more than a third of Americans who opposed the tax bill said they were following its progress very closely. Just 13 percent of those opponents named it among the two issues most important to them. Overall among opponents, the tax bill ranked seventh on a list of 12 issues. Health care ranked first, as it has for much of this year. If that doesn’t change, the tax bill’s unpopularity may not help its opponents electorally in the way Obamacare did — and continues to do.

But although the tax bill may not drag Republicans down, it appears unlikely to prove much of an asset in the midterms either — which still leaves the GOP in distinctly bad shape.

It’s “totally plausible that this bill has no effect on public opinion relative to baseline,” political scientist Jonathan Ladd tweeted Tuesday. “But that’s with our baseline being [that Republicans] are behind in the congressional generic ballot by around 10 points.” And that’s a margin that should make Republicans nervous.

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