It has become widely accepted, it seems, in the popular press, and in Washington, for a long time that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unpopular and will hurt the Democrats in the midterm elections in November 2014. My belief is that this stems from at least a couple misunderstandings of the polls.

First, most polls ask a lead question about the ACA, simply asking a question about whether people favor or oppose the ACA.  For a long time a plurality has been more against the ACA than in favor if, as this record of the question form the Kaiser polls shows well.  

The problem with using this simple poll result is that it is a too simplified view of the public's views on the ACA.  Ask individuals more about the law, and their views are more nuanced as shown by this graph.  As shown here, a significant majority (59%) of the public wants to either keep the ACA as is (10%), or keep the law and repair it (49%).  Only 29%-- want to outright repeal the law (18%) or repeal and replace it (11%).



It has also been argued that the ACA ("Obamacare") is almost certainly going to lead to defeat of the Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections, especially because it is so unpopular, as the theory goes (see above).  One problem with this theory of course is it is based on a misreading of the public's views of the ACA, as I address above.  Secondly, this point of view about how the public has voted in the past on the ACA has been misunderstood in the past.  For example, it has been often said that one reason the Democrats "lost the U.S. House" in 2010 is because  they voted for the ACA in March 2010.  A significant problem (if not fatal flaw) with this theory is the following data.  Of the 219 Democrats who voted for the ACA, 178 were reelected and 41 lost re-election (an 81% reelection rate for those who voted for the ACA).  In contrast, of those Democrats who voted against the ACA, 15 won reelection and 19 lost (only a 44% re-election rate).  From this data it seems the simple decision would have been to support the ACA (see the graph below.



How could the widely held view that the 2010 midterm election was decided in good part by Obamacare be so wrong?  One very simple explanation, could really be the right one. Economists usually say that the major factor deciding most elections is the economy, and by November 2010 the economic recovery was still weak, , and the public was quite upset.  Most of the seats the Democrats lost in the U.S. House, were in so-called "McCain districts", that is House districts that are traditional Republican districts with seats usually held by Republicans, but in the sweep of the 2008 Presidential election John McCain did not do well, so the Democrat may have narrowly defeated the Republican, only to see this reverse in the 2010 election.  So what has been attributed often to an "Obamacare effect" was really an economic effect when the political equilibrium returned.

So what will happen in 2014 midterms?  Will the driving force be Obamacare?  I am much more doubtful it will work negatively against the Democrats than many pundits say.