Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Opinion

Column: GOP senators might not realize it, but not one state supports the AHCA

It is no secret that the American Health Care Act is unpopular. In recent national polls, only about 29 percent of Americans support the bill. It is the most unpopular piece of major legislation that Congress has considered in decades — even more unloved than TARP ("the bailout"), and much more unpopular than the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Will Republican senators vote yes on a bill this unpopular? To hang on to their jobs, senators have to keep only voters in their own states happy, not the entire nation. Perhaps red-state senators, or even some senators in swing states, might think their states are friendlier to the bill than the nation as a whole.

Our research indicates that is not the case. To get a sense of support by state, we combined recent polls to estimate support for the AHCA in every senator's home state. Our estimates indicate that not one state favors it.

Even though very few state polls have been conducted on views of the AHCA, we are able to estimate views on the bill in each state using a statistical method called MRP (multilevel regression and postratification) and eight national polls that the Kaiser Family Foundation, YouGov and Public Policy Polling shared with us on people's views on the AHCA. While no polling system is infallible, our MRP model combines respondents' demographic characteristics, their state and their views of the AHCA to estimate the probability that a voter of a certain age, race and gender, and in a state with certain characteristics, would support the proposal. It then estimates support for the bill within every state based on each state's demographics. Models like this have been used to accurately predict public opinion in states on other topics, and in this month's election in Britain.

We found that Republicans have produced a rare unity among red and blue states: opposition to the AHCA. Even across all the states that voted for President Donald Trump last year, we estimate that support for the AHCA is rarely more than 35 percent.

How many senators might lose their seats as a result of supporting the bill? A recent study found that Democrats who supported Obamacare lost about 6 percentage points in the vote in 2010 — a dangerous omen for the 15 sitting Republican senators who won their most recent elections by less than that number.

With this said, it is hard to know just how politically damaging supporting the AHCA would be. On the one hand, no major bill this unpopular has passed in decades, but some voters might forget about the AHCA, or change their opinions, by the time some senators face re-election.

Critics of the bill should not assume that Republican senators know where their states stand. Research shows that politicians are surprisingly poor at estimating public opinion in their districts and states, Republicans in particular. GOP politicians tend to overestimate support for conservative health care views by about 20 percentage points.

Christopher Warshaw is an associate professor of political science at MIT. David Broockman is an assistant professor of political economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. © 2017 New York Times

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