One of the more stunning things to me about the election of Donald Trump was how it seemed to reorder voter priorities. At the beginning of 2016, according to polling from the AP and the University of Chicago's NORC public-opinion center, terrorism was the top priority, followed closely behind by health care, immigration, and unemployment/jobs a bit further behind.
At the beginning of 2017, poof! Health care was No. 1 by a 14 point margin, with unemployment/jobs second, and terrorism all the way in last place. And—worrisome for the GOP—the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which they promised to repeal, was modestly popular.
In March I checked in again on their polling, in which they delved into the components of the ACA. They were almost all popular; even the increase of the Medicare payroll tax on the wealthy had a decent majority in favor. The only unpopular part of the ACA was, unsurprisingly, the penalty for not getting health insurance. Later in March, when the House failed to pass a version of the bill in a legislative embarassment for the party, Slate's Jim Newell wrote that Trumpcare had "failed."
Well, it didn't. It's back, even though the polling numbers have gotten worse. In late May, a Quinnipiac poll found that the American Health Care Act beginning with just 40 percent approval; when respondents were told that it was predicted to lead to premium spikes for the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, and that it would cut taxes on the wealthy, approval fell to 35 percent. Otherwise it reflected the AP/NORC polling: people wanted the ACA fixed, not replaced with the AHCA.
AP/NORC just took another run at polling the AHCA. Things haven't improved.
To begin with, here's how respondents' preferences looked like in March.
And in June:
Again, health care and the economy lead their priorities, though they've slipped a bit in terms of very/extremely important (perhaps because two new policy areas were added).
Now here's how Trump's approval rating has changed from March to June. (I've subtracted "lean approve/disapprove" for simplicity, because no more than one percent of respondents indicated either.)
His performance on the economy is a wash, and it gets worse from there. Here's June:
There are two major causes for concern: his handling of the economy has gone from a tossup to disapproval, and his approval over his handling of health care—the country's No. 1 priority—has further eroded.
So what has the GOP done to respond? They've restarted the AHCA push, with seemingly more success, but with near-total secrecy:
There are no committee hearings. There are no floor speeches defending the policy provisions of the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell instead has assembled an ad hoc working group to hash out the details of Obamacare repeal in private meetings.
The biggest priority seems to be just passing a bill, regardless of what the bill actually looks like. Tierney Sneed, a reporter for Talking Points Memo, recently asked Sen. Orrin Hatch, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, whether it was important to get the bill out a few days before the vote, so the public could review its provisions.
His response was telling. “Well, I think we’re not worried so much about that as we are getting it together so we can get a majority to vote for it,” he said.
And when asked what it would do, they don't (or are unable to) answer.
So that's the state of things. As the polling for Republicans' plans on health care has worsened, they've redoubled their efforts to pass it; to deal with the unpopularity of their plans, they've ceased to present them to the public or, it seems, even to some of their colleagues. It's a very strange strategy, but it's been a very strange year.