Commentary Magazine


Topic: voter turnout

Vote Turnout Tactics Won’t Sell ObamaCare

Despite all the happy talk we’ve been hearing from the Obama administration and their media cheerleaders about the growing number of those enrolled in ObamaCare, they know they’re in trouble. The total number of enrollees is still far below what is needed to make the program pay for itself. With, as I noted here last week, up to 20 percent of those already counted as having signed up failing to pay their premiums and thus still not covered, the shortfall of customers is one of many problems plaguing the president’s signature health care plan.

To recruit more customers, the administration and its allies are pulling out all the stops. Television ads are flooding the airwaves with celebrities attempting to sell the benefits of ObamaCare as if it were soap while veterans of the president’s reelection campaign are literally hitting the bricks, going door to door in targeted neighborhoods trying to find new customers one at a time.

But, as the New York Times makes clear in a piece that was clearly intended to be sympathetic to the effort, marshaling the same resources that produced a massive turnout to vote for Barack Obama may turn out to be a lot easier than persuading Americans to buy ObamaCare:

The hunt for the uninsured in Broward County got underway one recent afternoon when 41 canvassers, armed with electronic maps on Samsung tablets, set off through working-class neighborhoods to peddle the Affordable Care Act door to door. Four hours later, they had made contact with 2,623 residents and signed up exactly 25 people.

Many of their targets, people identified on sophisticated computer lists generated in Washington as unlikely to have health insurance, had moved away. Some were not home. Many said they already had insurance through Medicare, their parents or a job. A few were hostile at the mere mention of President Obama’s health care law.

“We’re going to repeal that,” one man said gruffly as he shut the door in the face of a canvasser, Nancy Morwin, 58, a retired social worker.

While that prediction may be disputed, it’s clear that the full-court press to inflate ObamaCare enrollment may not be enough to either answer questions about its acceptance or to make it possible for the program to survive.

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Despite all the happy talk we’ve been hearing from the Obama administration and their media cheerleaders about the growing number of those enrolled in ObamaCare, they know they’re in trouble. The total number of enrollees is still far below what is needed to make the program pay for itself. With, as I noted here last week, up to 20 percent of those already counted as having signed up failing to pay their premiums and thus still not covered, the shortfall of customers is one of many problems plaguing the president’s signature health care plan.

To recruit more customers, the administration and its allies are pulling out all the stops. Television ads are flooding the airwaves with celebrities attempting to sell the benefits of ObamaCare as if it were soap while veterans of the president’s reelection campaign are literally hitting the bricks, going door to door in targeted neighborhoods trying to find new customers one at a time.

But, as the New York Times makes clear in a piece that was clearly intended to be sympathetic to the effort, marshaling the same resources that produced a massive turnout to vote for Barack Obama may turn out to be a lot easier than persuading Americans to buy ObamaCare:

The hunt for the uninsured in Broward County got underway one recent afternoon when 41 canvassers, armed with electronic maps on Samsung tablets, set off through working-class neighborhoods to peddle the Affordable Care Act door to door. Four hours later, they had made contact with 2,623 residents and signed up exactly 25 people.

Many of their targets, people identified on sophisticated computer lists generated in Washington as unlikely to have health insurance, had moved away. Some were not home. Many said they already had insurance through Medicare, their parents or a job. A few were hostile at the mere mention of President Obama’s health care law.

“We’re going to repeal that,” one man said gruffly as he shut the door in the face of a canvasser, Nancy Morwin, 58, a retired social worker.

While that prediction may be disputed, it’s clear that the full-court press to inflate ObamaCare enrollment may not be enough to either answer questions about its acceptance or to make it possible for the program to survive.

Some of the early efforts to persuade young and presumably healthy “invincibles” to sign up were downright embarrassing. The “Got Insurance” campaign launched by Colorado liberals claimed the program would facilitate sexual hookups and keep them healthy even if they abused alcohol. But while the ads running on sports channels and the Olympics featuring retired basketball stars Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning are more tasteful, they seem based on the same premise that the right kind of marketing is all that’s needed to convince Americans that the misnamed Affordable Care Act is something they need or want.

It may be that the slightly less than one percent success rate of the Broward County canvassers portrayed in the Times story might, if replicated throughout the nation, be enough to pump up the program’s enrollment numbers to the point where it will be proclaimed a success. But as the article also illustrated, most if not all of those signed up by the campaign fall into the category of those who are not the ideal ObamaCare recruits. A few people with pre-existing conditions and families with small children were found and enrolled by the Florida canvassers. However, these are patients who will soak up the care rationed out by the scheme. Even more rare were young and healthy customers who are unlikely to need much care and will thus pay for the others with their premiums. But even there, some of those who agreed to be enrolled found that problems with the infamous HealthCare.gov website prevented them from being signed up on the spot.

It can be argued that any government benefit program needs to be marketed to the public. But the massive effort already undertaken on behalf of ObamaCare has done more to highlight the massive public resistance to the law than anything else. At this point, only someone living under a rock or on Mars is unaware of the law or the fact that the administration is desperate to persuade more Americans to avail themselves of the insurance it is selling. Selling ObamaCare door to door the same way encyclopedias or beauty products were marketed in the 1950s and 60s may make sense to the president’s team, but the problem is not so much a matter of sales technique as it is a refusal to understand the public’s unhappiness with the law.

As the results in Broward illustrate, with enough effort it will be possible to find a great many customers who are the likely beneficiaries of ObamaCare. The poor and those with health problems that kept them from being insured don’t need a hard sell to understand they will gain from taking part. But unless the administration can con millions more young and healthy people to buy into it, the entire edifice is doomed to collapse in a sea of red ink that will only be rectified by the kind of massive federal bailout of insurers that the American people were told wouldn’t happen. Neither Magic Johnson nor the Obama reelection turnout effort can sell America on a product it doesn’t want.

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Obama Poll Surge Doesn’t Jibe With Democrats’ Registration Decline

Many Republicans are not buying the numbers produced by national polls in the last few weeks that show President Obama padding his lead over Mitt Romney. Some of this sentiment can be put down to wishful thinking by conservatives who can’t fathom why so many Americans want to re-elect Obama. It is only human nature that we tend to think polls that verify our views of the way things should be are credible while dismissing those that contradict as bogus. Indeed, with the president taking the lead in so many national as well as swing state polls recently it is difficult to argue that the race hasn’t shifted in his direction. However, there are those, such as former Bill Clinton advisor/pollster and current pundit Dick Morris, who have consistently argued that the polls are wrong because their turnout model is incorrect. Morris believes that all of their numbers reflect a belief that the Democrats will be able to match their historic turnout they achieved in 2008, something he argues is not remotely likely to happen.

Morris’s argument was widely dismissed as mere spin by a conservative-leaning analyst, but recent reports showing a huge decline in Democratic registration when compared to four years ago should give even the most sanguine liberals some food for thought. As Fox News reports, several studies have shown that the number of voters declaring themselves to be Democrats has dipped precipitately in swing states, particularly in Ohio. The same is true, as I noted back in July, in Pennsylvania. That leaves us with a conundrum. If, as even left-wing think tanks agree, Democratic voter registration is in decline, why are pollsters assuming that the electorate will largely resemble the messianic “hope and change” outpouring that elected Barack Obama? And if they are wrong about the turnout model, does that mean their forecasts showing the president cruising to re-election are also incorrect?

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Many Republicans are not buying the numbers produced by national polls in the last few weeks that show President Obama padding his lead over Mitt Romney. Some of this sentiment can be put down to wishful thinking by conservatives who can’t fathom why so many Americans want to re-elect Obama. It is only human nature that we tend to think polls that verify our views of the way things should be are credible while dismissing those that contradict as bogus. Indeed, with the president taking the lead in so many national as well as swing state polls recently it is difficult to argue that the race hasn’t shifted in his direction. However, there are those, such as former Bill Clinton advisor/pollster and current pundit Dick Morris, who have consistently argued that the polls are wrong because their turnout model is incorrect. Morris believes that all of their numbers reflect a belief that the Democrats will be able to match their historic turnout they achieved in 2008, something he argues is not remotely likely to happen.

Morris’s argument was widely dismissed as mere spin by a conservative-leaning analyst, but recent reports showing a huge decline in Democratic registration when compared to four years ago should give even the most sanguine liberals some food for thought. As Fox News reports, several studies have shown that the number of voters declaring themselves to be Democrats has dipped precipitately in swing states, particularly in Ohio. The same is true, as I noted back in July, in Pennsylvania. That leaves us with a conundrum. If, as even left-wing think tanks agree, Democratic voter registration is in decline, why are pollsters assuming that the electorate will largely resemble the messianic “hope and change” outpouring that elected Barack Obama? And if they are wrong about the turnout model, does that mean their forecasts showing the president cruising to re-election are also incorrect?

While all polls are merely a snapshot of public opinion at a given moment, the registration numbers can’t be debated. Voter registration in Ohio is down by 490,000 from 2008 when, as was the case around the country, there was a flood of young and minority first-time voters eager to elect the first African American to the presidency. That decline in Ohio appears to be largely concentrated in the three largest counties that contain urban cities like Cleveland, where Democrats predominate. That same trend is reflected elsewhere. As Fox notes:

Ohio is not alone. An August study by the left-leaning think tank Third Way showed that the Democratic voter registration decline in eight key swing states outnumbered the Republican decline by a 10-to-one ratio. In Florida, Democratic registration is down 4.9 percent, in Iowa down 9.5 percent. And in New Hampshire, it’s down 19.7 percent.

Does this mean that the polls that show Obama ahead are, by definition, wrong? Not necessarily. After all, the president may be gaining among independents, something that the Fox story points out may be driven by Obama’s support for the auto industry bailout. It is also true, as liberal analyst Nate Silver pointed out last night in a New York Times blog that was intended to answer conservative skeptics about the Obama surge:

Party identification is not a hard-and-fast demographic characteristic like race, age or gender. Instead, it can change in reaction to news and political events from the party conventions to the Sept. 11 attacks. Since changes in public opinion are precisely what polls are trying to measure, it would defeat the purpose of conducting a survey if pollsters insisted that they knew what it was ahead of time.

If the focus on “oversampling” and party identification is misplaced, however, FiveThirtyEight does encourage a healthy skepticism toward polling. Polling is difficult, after all, in an era in which even the best pollsters struggle to get 10 percent of households to return their calls — and then have to hope that the people who do answer the surveys are representative of those who do not.

It seems reasonable to assume that turnout in 2012 will not be fueled by the same passion that drove his 2008 campaign and that Republicans will not have the same advantage they had in 2010 when discouraged Democrats stayed home and the Tea Party revolution powered the GOP to an equally historic victory. The decline in Democrat registration would seem to back up these conclusions.

A biased media may have exacerbated Romney’s recent difficulties but it would be absurd to deny that he has lost ground. To assume that all the polls are wrong may be wishful thinking by conservatives. But blind faith in their accuracy on the part of Democrats might be equally foolish. The turnout models may have baked in a pro-Obama bias that makes Romney’s plight look worse than it really is. Should the president start to widen his lead, that skewing of the numbers won’t be that meaningful. But if Romney uses a strong debate performance to turn the tide and the race tights back up, then it will be important.

Just as Republicans must guard against indulging in fantasies that reflect their desires rather than reality, so, too, must Democrats understand that if they allow a poorly constructed poll model to feed their overconfidence, they may regret it on Election Day.

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