Will the Republicans pay an electoral price for AHCA?

Yes, if we live in a remotely just world.  Of course, I’m far from convinced that we do (one of the primary reasons I’m a Democrat).

That said, pretty much the coolest thing last week was to see my name coming up in columns from Nate Silver and Nate Cohn about a possible electoral penalty for Republicans.  First, Silver:

In 2010, Democrats who voted for Obamacare paid a huge price in the midterms. Just how big a price? A 2011 study by FiveThirtyEight contributor Seth Masket and another political scientist, Steven Greene, found that Democrats who voted for Obamacare lost 6.6 to 7.6 percentage points of the vote, depending on which model they used. Note, however, that these totals refer to the share of the vote the Democrat lost and not to the margin that the Democrat had against the Republican. Since third-party candidates are rarely major factors in House races, almost every vote the Democrat loses is one the Republican gains. Thus, the effect on the Democrat’s margin against the Republican was roughly twice that — 13 to 15 percentage points. That’s a huge effect; it means that a Democrat who was on track to cruise to re-election by 12 points would lose if they’d voted for Obamacare.

later study by Masket, Greene and three other researchers found impacts of a similar magnitude, estimating a 5.8 percentage point Obamacare effect on the Democrat’s vote share using one technique, and an 8.5-point effect using another. Again, these are vote shares, not vote margins. (We usually think in terms of margins here at FiveThirtyEight). The margins would be roughly twice as high — in the range of 12- to 17-point penalty for a Democrat who voted for Obamacare.

If Republican members should suffer a similar penalty for voting for the AHCA — somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 points — it could put dozens of GOP-held seats in play. Some 33 Republicans won their seats by 14 percentage points or less in 20161; of those, 27 voted for the AHCA. [emphasis mine]

That’s a hell of an “if” and it’s predicated on all sorts of goings-on over the next 18 months, but it does suggest that voting the wrong way on a major piece of legislation that stays highly politically relevant certainly can matter.

After writing an MPSA paper with Seth, we combined forces with Brendan Nyhan, Eric McGhee, and John Sides (and I have to be honest, and admit my very much secondary role in this combined effort).  Cohn discusses this study in a recent Upshot:

study by the political scientists Brendan Nyhan, Eric McGhee, John Sides, Seth Masket and Steven Greene showed that the Democrats who voted against the A.C.A. outperformed those who voted for it by a net 10 to 15 points in 2010. (Mr. Nyhan is an Upshot contributor.) Our estimates are lower, at around 5 to 10 points, in part because many of the Democratic A.C.A. opponents fared particularly well in the 2008 elections, but it’s a considerable effect either way. (Our estimates are based on the results of recent congressional and presidential elections by district, member ideology and whether the candidates voted for the A.C.A.)…

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Democrats would have done 5 to 10 points better in the 2010 midterm elections if they had never pursued the Affordable Care Act. It just means that the members who didn’t vote for it did better than those who did. It’s a subtle distinction, but there is a difference: In a tough national environment in 2010, Democrats who voted against the A.C.A. found it easier to distinguish themselves from the national party.

The House Democrats who did vote for the A.C.A. were punished for it in a particular way, too. They struggled to do much better than recent Democratic presidential candidate, whatever their performance in recent elections. The Democrats who voted against the A.C.A., on the other hand, outperformed.

These results tell a pretty clear story about who could be hurt the most this midterm: the Republicans who ran well ahead of the national party in 2016 but who voted for the A.H.C.A. and were subsequently seen as no different from Donald J. Trump. On the other hand, a similar Republican who voted against the Republican plan might have just taken a modest step toward electoral survival. [emphasis mine]

Again, we’re a long way from November 2018 and there’s a lot left to happen.  But it’s not at all unreasonable to think that last week’s vote really could help put the Republican House majority in jeopardy.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Will the Republicans pay an electoral price for AHCA?

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    When all else fails in 2018, the GOP Congress can always fall back on their ace in the hole – veiled and unveiled racism.

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