Trump and the unpopular GOP health care bill

Zombie Trumpcare 2.0 has been laid to rest – again. Without delving into the policy or the politics of ACA repeal, this seems like a good time to touch on some notable aspects of the bill’s popularity.

It was striking how just how unpopular the bill was. The best illustration of this I have seen is from MIT political scientist Chris Warshaw, who compared numbers for the GOP health care reform to various major legislative proposals from the past few decades. GOP health care reform is less popular than them all – not just less popular than, say, the ACA (in 2009/10), but also less popular that TARP, which passed after a market crash and led to huge backlash, or Hillarycare, which failed to launch and helped foment the 1994 GOP wave.

What’s at the heart of such historic unpopularity? Part of the blame surely falls at the feet of its low quality as legislation, a reality that’s manifested itself in the public eye through CBO scores, protests, industry opposition, and even skeptical Republican officials. But I wanted to focus on one Republican official in particular – the main one.

The reality is Donald Trump’s sales effort on this bill has been noticeably limp, not only when you compare it to Obama’s full-court press in 2009 and 2010, but also when you compare to his own remarks on things he actually cares about – like border walls, and stopping people from looking into his financial information. His remarks about health care have been rare, and when they appear they do nothing to directly address concerns about what’s in the new bill, but instead focus on Obamacare and Senate process.

I went to a recent YouGov poll to see if there was evidence of poor marketing. The basic idea is this: if Trump’s sales pitch on GOP health reform has been especially bad, it should mainly show up when looking at the voters who are in general likely to listen to Trump (e.g. Republicans, 2016 Trump voters). Conversely, on issues where he’s made a real push, you’d expect to see a boost with these same Trump-friendly voters.

A recent YouGov poll asked about a few Trump-backed policies, including the health care bill, the border wall, and the firing of James Comey. Below is public opinion on those three policies, broken down by party identification and 2016 vote. The policy changes are set alongside Trump’s own approval rating with the same groups.

Screen Shot 2017-07-29 at 5.01.29 PM
Source: Economist/YouGov Poll

Notice anything?

To make it a bit clearer, here’s that data again, except this time it shows the difference between support for the policy and support for Donald Trump (negative numbers indicate the policy is less popular with a given subgroup than Trump is).

Screen Shot 2017-07-29 at 5.01.24 PM
Source: YouGov/Economist Poll

Support for the border wall and the firing of the FBI director track very closely to Trump’s own popularity among groups that mostly dislike him. These policy/personnel changes trail his own popularity only slightly among supporters.

The GOP health care bill is no different among Trump’s disapprovers – they like the bill as much (or as little) as they like Trump, no more, no less. Yet the the bill trails Trump by around 20 points when it comes to his supporters.

In other words, he appears to have effectively tied the border wall and the Comey firing to his own popularity, but has failed to do so with the Obamacare replacement. That’s still not necessarily a positive thing for the popularity of the firing or the border wall – Trump himself is not very popular, and there are compelling reasons to believe the border wall is actually less popular than it could be without its association to Trump. But a failure by Trump to even win over his supporters helps explain why the GOP health care bill is especially unpopular.


Trump and the unpopular GOP health care bill