03/06/2014 05:31 pm ET Updated May 06, 2014

ACA Impact on the Midterms: Hart & McInturff Weigh-In

Peter Hart, chairman of Peter D. Hart Research and Bill McInturff, CEO of Public Opinion Strategies, held court at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington on what Obamacare means for the midterm elections

Speaking to the health care industry, the Washington insiders showed sentiments evenly split by party with "undecided" or persuadable voters up for grabs.

The Republican Party has coalesced around abolishing Obamacare. The Democrats have rallied around the notion of "fix and repair" rather than "repeal and replace." What we learned at the AHIP health care public policy conference in Washington, DC this week is that these polar extremes tend to find a middle ground over time.

With Rep. Ted Cruz holding forth on the evils of Obamacare, there have been no less than 50 congressional efforts to repeal the law. The American voting public tends to tire of such proselytizing.

The mood and temper of the American Public changes over time. Harkening back to nation-building legislative efforts like the Civil Rights Act, Hart said: "The public says 'it's the end of the world' but over time the public always makes the adjustment. If the GOP becomes too obstinate they will put themselves in an untenable position." It's like a kayak righting itself.

"The roll-out has been the seminal event," said Hart. "But don't lean over your skis just yet. If the GOP goes too overboard (and tips), they alienate the voters and the public backs away."

For instance, Public Opinion Strategies research polling shows that 63 percent of the voting public wants the pre-existing condition coverage found under ACA. Bill McInturff predicted in all of the Democratic campaign ads for 2014, we will see that an ACA repeal will result in "Denied Coverage." The message is: "don't turn back," McInturff said.

With 240 days to go until the election, the researcher and pollster seemed to say a lot can change.

McInturff said the Democrats may still be running out of time: "The Democratic party needs to worry that there is not enough time to repair the damage. People have a negative impression of ACA and the Party doesn't have the time to change this to a positive" in just over seven months.

All About Turnout

"Turnout is the key for midterm elections," agreed the AHIP executives and panel. "Intensity makes all of the difference in the world," noted Hart. It is a question between the motivated voters versus the complacent.

The GOP clearly has the lead in "intensity to those with a fixed opinion," Hart added. The Democrats have a message to deliver. As polarized as they are, the Democrats have an advantage with the uncommitted and the swing voters, said the democratic-leaning researcher.

Let's look at the Hart Research numbers:

  • 52 percent of Republicans say eliminate ACA
  • 55 percent of registered voters say "Let's Fix It."
  • 61 percent of Democrats say Obamacare is fixable

Let's look at McInturff's Public Opinion Strategies numbers:

  • 56 percent of Americans say people with pre-existing conditions are better-off under Obamacare/ACA;
  • 51 percent of the respondents also believe the uninsured are better-off

What does this mean? A whole lot of undecided and persuadable voters for the future. As McInturff said, "The healthcare law just is not perceived as having that much impact" on people's personal lives.

So why all the vitriol and continued congressional mania introducing new repeal legislation? Because elected officials face a primary, before the election. With 70 percent of the GOP primary voters opposed and wanting repeal of Obamacare, those running for office have to say they opposed the law.

McInturff mimicked that the GOP problem is they are so opposed and the public "just wants it fixed." He said the mood seems to be that you give something a chance to work it out before you pull the plug.

"We had this fight for four years, so let's see if they can make it work," McInturff paraphrased what he is hearing in the polls.

This battle fatigue of the American electorate and the continued pugilism of the GOP reminds me of the final fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran. After Duran was hit too many times in the Eighth Round, he looked away from Sugar Ray, up at the referee and simply said: "No Mas."