By now most of us have heard both sides’ arguments in the debate over Obamacare. Those opposed point out that the law is causing damage to both the economy and to the existing health care system. Employers are shifting their workers to 29 ½ hour work schedules and reducing their overall head count to under 50 workers to avoid being subject to Obamacare regulations. Deficits will soar, taxes will go up, and the Fed will continue printing trillions of dollars. Obamacare’s medical premiums of $10,000 or more will bankrupt the middle class, they say.
Lately supporters of the bill have been countering such criticisms with an intriguing claim which has largely gone unchallenged in the mainstream media. Senate Democrats, the President, and their supporters say that there should be no debate whatsoever on the merits of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) in 2013. That debate, they believe, was settled by the 2012 presidential election, which they see as a referendum on the Affordable Care Act.
By re-electing Barack Obama, the law’s proponents claim, the American public unequivocally signaled its support for Obamacare. In effect the bill’s supporters are asserting that Americans re-elected Barack Obama to insure that his law would be retained and effectively implemented.
However, in poll after poll taken since 2009 Americans have vehemently opposed this transformation of the health care system and want the law downsized or repealed. And such opposition is growing steadily. A CNN poll just released shows 57% of Americans opposed to Obamacare, only 38% in favor.
This presents a very intriguing question. If Americans have been so opposed to Obamacare since 2009, why would they send back to the White House the very person who would fight tirelessly to retain and implement it? We clearly need an alternative explanation of Barack Obama’s re-election.
Two factors which have not been sufficiently explored in the mainstream print and electronic media offer reasonable explanations of Obama’s 2012 election victory. One involves the build-up to and actual occurrence of a cataclysmic weather event, Hurricane Sandy, and the other is the unfolding story of the IRS investigations of pro-conservative and tea-party groups that started as early as 2010.
In the days following November 6th, many members of the political cognoscenti pulled no punches in asserting that the multi-day hurricane event impacted the election and might even have influenced the outcome.
By the fall of 2012 Obama’s hold on the presidency was clearly slipping. Obama’s poll numbers had declined to the mid-40% range by 2012. In the days and months leading up to November 2012, the economy was suffering through a prolonged period of historically high unemployment rates, shrinking incomes, rising food and energy prices, and a GDP growing at less than 1%. Similar economic conditions had turned Presidents Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Ford into one-termers.
Many Americans, including Bill Clinton, felt Mitt Romney had secured the presidency with his first debate performance in which he deftly critiqued Obama’s disastrous economic record and presented his unique vision for creating 12 million jobs. Throughout the debate process, Romney expanded his lead nationally to three to seven points.
By late October his improving poll numbers in “swing states” such as Virginia, Ohio, and Florida enabled him to grab the lead in Realclearpolitics.com’s electoral vote count.
So how did Barack Obama win a second term? Former President Bill Clinton, NBC’s David Gregory, Chris Mathews and others answered that question not by referencing Obama’s economic and foreign affairs record. What changed the election, these pundits contended, was Hurricane Sandy.
This October 29 hurricane, as well as the multi-day media build-up to the disaster, diverted Americans’ attention from the election to the human-interest story of the hurricane. The Presidential campaign, along with Mitt Romney, faded from the national spotlight, replaced by a barrage of news about the looming natural disaster and then importantly the constant images of President Obama spearheading the rescue effort. This transformation climaxed with Obama’s appearance on the New Jersey shore with NJ Governor Chris Christie, whose gushing praise for Obama, said NBC’s David Gregory, helped Obama take center stage in America’s living rooms.
Polls showed Americans suddenly rallying around their leader in a time of crisis. As if by magic, Obama’s moribund poll numbers moved into the 50%-51% approval rating. Bill Clinton says that Sandy gave Obama the chance to look presidential and bipartisan. According to Reuters’ Andrew Reeves, “Sandy put the brakes on a Romney campaign that had been gaining momentum and thrust President Obama into a leadership role.”
MSNBC’s Chris Mathews unabashedly declared that the hurricane secured the win for Obama. The New York Times’ John Cassidy concurred, stating that “After being behind in the national polls for most of October,” President Obama’s “handling of Sandy raised his standing, and his poll ratings.” Michael Moore launched a tasteless post-election YouTube video publicly “thanking” Hurricane Sandy for the Obama victory.
Election returns reveal Sandy’s impact on the election. Although Obama secured 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206, Romney had only to keep in his fold the voters and the 64 electoral votes of Virginia, Florida, Ohio, and New Hampshire to win 270-269. He lost those four states by a combined margin of only 430,000 votes of the nearly 19 million cast there.
In other words, if Mitt Romney had retained a mere 216,000 total voters from those four states, he would have won.
The Gallup exit polls show that far more than that number, a whopping 2 million of the voters in those states, said they were swayed to vote for Obama due to his response to Hurricane Sandy.
However, a case can be made that if Romney had come into last-October with a stronger lead in the polls, say in the 10-point range, Hurricane Sandy would not have been able to shift enough votes to swing the election to Obama. In fact, as the nation has been learning via congressional hearings over the last several months, another factor had been at work for over two years that undermined that ability of Romney or any GOP candidate to win the White House.
A new paper from Stockholm University and the Harvard Kennedy School researchers reveals the impact of the nascent tea party on the 2010 election. Tea party workers brought the Republican Party an additional 3-6 million additional votes in House races, a significant boost in an election in which Republican House candidates garnered a total of approximately 45 million votes. As a result, the GOP won 6 Senate seats and over 60 seats that enabled them to take control of the House.
In March of 2010 the Internal Revenue Service began singling out for special scrutiny and investigation organizations with names containing “Tea Party,” “patriot,” or “9/12” that were applying for tax-exempt status. Internal IRS documents recently obtained by USA TODAY reveal that the IRS flagged tea party groups for “anti-Obama rhetoric” and other political statements it viewed as “propaganda.” For the next two-plus years, tea party organizations applying for such tax-exempt status were subject to highly intrusive, intimidating requests for information regarding their activities, private thoughts, membership, and Facebook posts.
According to study researcher Stan Veuger the Internal Revenue Service actions paralyzed the GOP’s strongest organizing force, the tea party movement, during the months leading up to the 2012 elections.Instead of engaging in the educational outreach activities that proved so effective in 2010, founders, members, and donors of new tea party organizations had to devote their time and limited financial resources responding to seemingly endless IRS investigations. Between 2010 and 2012 only four such organizations were granted such status. Donors dried up, and scarce financial resources were diverted to legal fees incurred dealing with the IRS.
The tea party groups’ impact was successfully blunted during the 2012 election cycle. If the tea party groups continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010 and had the same effect on votes in 2012 that they had two years earlier, their organizing and educational activities could have brought the Republican Party at least 5 million to 8.5 million additional votes, Veuger suggested. Obama’s victory margin was only 5 million votes. The IRS anti-tea party campaign was particularly active in the Cincinnati office, located in the critical swing-state Ohio. Obama won Ohio by only 166,000 votes in a state in which 5.5 million people voted.
It is not unreasonable to suggest that if the IRS gambit had not so inhibited tea party and conservative voter turnout operations in 2011 and 2012, Hurricane Sandy, as powerful as it was in generating votes for Obama, would have not have been able to swing a sufficient number to insure Obama’s re-election.
In the current battle over the funding of Obamacare, Obama and the Democrats are leaning heavily on the argument that the 2012 election settled the debate over Obamacare once and for all. They posit that the American electorate, in choosing Obama, in effect signaled its preference for Obamacare, and in fact re-elected him to insure the law’s implementation.
But as is evident, Obama’s victory could be explained not by the voters’ affinity for Obama’s policies, but by variables like Hurricane Sandy, which momentarily improved Obama’s poll ratings, and aggressive IRS scrutiny of the tea party movement that neutralized its capacity to organize and educate millions of additional conservative and center-right voters.
Clearly, the debate over Obamacare was not settled by the 2012 election. In fact, it has just begun, and will continue into the 2014 House and Senate elections and the 2016 presidential election.
Instead of basing their defense of Obamacare on the fact that Obama was re-elected in 2012, the Democrats and progressives would be wise to explain the merits of the Affordable Care Act to an America which only now, on the eve of the law’s activation, is learning about the economic and social impact of this law.