For years now, so-called low-information voters have been the GOP’s base. It’s why the false claims that President Barack Obama was not a natural born United States citizen, that he’s a Muslim, and that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) included “death panels” was a successful narrative for them.
Nuance is not a strong point with low-information voters. When the GOP set out to paint the ACA as government-run healthcare, people believed it. They also believed that government-run healthcare was bad. Oddly, many of those who depend on Medicaid and Medicare found the ACA objectionable, despite the fact that both of those programs are government-run healthcare programs.
Perhaps more amazing, many people did not seem to realize that the Affordable Healthcare Act and Obamacare are the same thing. Republicans successful convinced their low-information voters that anything with the name “Obama” attached to it was bad. However, many of those same voters depend on the ACA — and its subsidies — to provide them with affordable health insurance.
It’s a strategy that has worked well for Republicans for more than six years now. With their vote last week to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a plan that strips nearly $900 billion from Medicaid, while handing a tax cut averaging $200,000 each to the top 1% of Americans, they have done something Democrats have not, up to now, been able to achieve: They have blown up their low-information voter strategy that has worked so well for them.
For low-information voters, grasping nuance and thinking critically are not their best events. Those death panels Sarah Palin said would decide whether people like her son Trig, born with Down Syndrome, would receive care? The closest thing to that in the ACA was a provision empowering doctors to have end-of-life discussions with terminally ill patients to ensure that the patient’s wishes are understood and honored in terms of do-not-resuscitate orders and other extraordinary measures.
Those rumors about President Obama being Muslim? Many of those perpetuating such rumors also criticized Obama for the things said by his Christian pastor at his Christian church. Low-information voters apparently never considered the fairly stark contradiction there.
In February, I read a story about a woman who was so happy that Trump had been elected, because he had finally gotten rid of Obamacare and now her son was able to get health insurance for only $8 per week. Obviously, it was not Trump that did that for her son; it was Obama. The ACA’s subsidies are what enabled her son to get affordable insurance. Those are the very subsidies the GOP bill will strip away and hand over to the wealthy in the form of tax cuts.
Low-information voters don’t really understand how something becomes law. Last week, they saw on their TV a big happy group of Republicans, crowded in behind a jubilant Donald Trump, laughing and high-fiving about their vote to repeal and replace Obamacare. For low-information voters, that means Obamacare is dead — in fact, Trump stated those very words — and we are now operating under a wonderful new Republican plan in which, as Trump promised, everyone will have great healthcare, at a lower cost.
Of course, Trumpcare is not yet the law of the land, but low-information voters now believe it is. So, when premiums continue to rise and insurance companies continue to leave the marketplace (both largely thanks to Republican manipulation of funding for the ACA), these low-information voters will no longer blame Obamacare. After all, it’s dead, right? They will perceive these issues to be connected with Trumpcare and the bill passed by the Republicans last week.
So, what the Republicans did last week, with their hasty and ill-conceived replacement of Obamacare is effectively take ownership of it. Those “poorly educated” for whom Trump once famously declared his love are going to expect their next insurance bill to be lower, their deductibles eliminated, and their choice of insurance companies to be broadly expanded, and they’re going to expect those things right away. When it doesn’t happen, the days of blaming Obamacare are over. The blame is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of Republicans.