Republican Health Care Plans Are Unpopular. Do They Really Care?
At this point, it is widely accepted that the American Health Care Act (AHCA) is bad policy and bad politics. Everyone is familiar with the Congressional Budget Office report that says the law would strip 23 million people of their insurance over the next ten years while providing massive tax cuts to the richest people in the country. Most people also know that the bill is incredibly unpopular with voters—recent polls show that 59% of Americans disapprove of TrumpCare, and there is not a single state where the majority of residents support the Republican healthcare plan.
Conventional wisdom says the AHCA’s massive unpopularity with voters should dissuade Republican lawmakers from supporting the bill. Yet they continue to advance the legislation, seemingly oblivious to the fact that passing a bill with historically low disapproval ratings will hurt their chances in the 2018 midterms.
Or will it? While passing laws that most of the country hates used to be a surefire way to get ousted in the next election, Republicans today have gerrymandered Congressional maps so effectively that it is almost impossible for them to lose their majority in the House of Representatives. In fact, the advantage is so significant that in 2012, Republicans won a majority in the House despite the fact that their candidates received 2 million fewer votes nationwide than Democrats. The Brennan Center reports that today they enjoy a 16-17 seat bonus because of partisan bias in congressional maps.
As recent special elections in Kansas, Montana, and Georgia show, even significant increases in Democratic margins are not enough to overcome the Republican advantage. That’s because the GOP has designed congressional maps that give their candidates large margins of victory in as many districts as possible. With thousands of votes to spare before they even begin to feel threatened, Republican lawmakers are right to consider their House majority virtually guaranteed, and that means there is no pressing reason for them to take public opinion about the AHCA (or any other policy) into account when deciding how they will vote.
The only way to address this problem and make public opinion relevant again is to fix the biased congressional district maps that have given Republicans such a significant advantage. The best way to do that is for Democrats to focus on winning governors seats and state Houses so they can exert more influence over the redistricting process after the 2020 census.
While a few states give control of the redistricting process to independent commissions, most states leave control of redistricting up to their legislatures. Between 2008 and 2010, Republicans won control of most state legislatures, which meant they had almost unchecked control over the redistricting process in 2011. That allowed GOP lawmakers to draw maps that gave their party the advantage it still enjoys today.
If Democrats ever want to pose a serious threat to Republican lawmakers, they will have to start by winning back seats at the state level and drawing new Congressional maps that are not biased in favor of Republicans. Until they do that, the GOP will remain essentially invincible in the House and will continue to pass unpopular and damaging policies like the AHCA without fear of voters sending them packing in the next election.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or the views of Arbitror itself.
Photo: “Don't Take Our Health Care Rally,” Originally taken by Paul Becker with a CC BY 2.0 license. Use of this photo does not indicate an endorsement from its creator.