Exit Polls Contradict Nancy Pelosi Obamacare Claim

Pelosi said Democrats did not lose House majority due to support of Obamacare

Nancy Pelosi / AP


Analysis of exit polls and election results by experts appear to contradict House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D., Calif.) claim Wednesday that Democrats did not lose their House majority in 2010 due to the Affordable Care Act.

Pelosi said at a press conference that Democratic losses in 2010 stemmed from their backing of the $700 billion economic bailout package in 2008 known as TARP, rather than their support of the ACA, passed in 2010. Republicans won in a landslide in the 2010 midterm elections, picking up a net 63 House seats in their best showing since 1938.

Pelosi was asked by a reporter whether House Democrats, who the reporter said "took a huge risk in supporting" the ACA in 2010 and potentially jeopardized their majority, were disappointed in the law’s glitch-ridden rollout.

"I don’t even buy into the idea that we lost the election because of health care," Pelosi said. "One of the most damaging votes that our members had to take was the TARP, 700-plus-billion dollars to bail out Wall Street, in the view of the public. We didn’t see it that way. We saw it as rescuing our economy from a financial services meltdown, and it was necessary for us to do."

"But I’m glad you asked that question because it enables me to say the Democrats were the ones who saved the day with that vote," she continued. "And people never really got over that vote."

However, experts say the ACA, commonly known as Obamacare, played a decisive role in voters’ election of a Republican House majority in 2010.

According to 2010 exit polls, 56 percent of independents voted for Republican candidates in 2010, compared to 39 percent in 2006. 48 percent of voters at the time said the health care law should be repealed, while 31 percent said it should be expanded, and 16 percent said it should be left as is.

"The central political problem for the Democrats [in 2010] was that a solid majority of independents sided with Republican identifiers opposing [Obamacare] as too intrusive and too expensive, and opinions on it became tightly linked to evaluations of Obama’s performance," wrote Gary Jacobson, political science professor at University of California, San Diego, in a 2011 analysis.

"The health care debate thus contributed to a more general loss of support for Obama among independents; in surveys taken in the fall of 2010, on average only about 40 percent of independents approved of his job performance."

Additionally, both Republican and Democratic votes on Obamacare proved to be a reliable indicator of their electoral success in 2010, wrote Jeffrey Anderson, a writer who covers Obamacare for the Weekly Standard, in a 2010 post. Obamacare passed in March 2010 without a single Republican vote.

"In swing districts, those ranging from +5 Democratic to +5 Republican (based on votes in the past three presidential elections), House incumbents who voted no on Obamacare won 20 of 23 races, by an average of 22 percentage points," he wrote. "House incumbents who voted yes on Obamacare won 10 of 26 races, not one of them by double-digits. These tallies include both parties, but isolating Democrats yields similar results."

A similar phenomenon occurred among Democrats running in districts ranging from slightly Democratic to pro-Republican, he said.

"In the districts in question, the results are striking: Democrats who voted no on Obamacare won eight races and lost six, while Democrats who voted yes on Obamacare won 11 races and lost a whopping 29," he said. "On average, these anti-Obamacare Democrats ran in +6 GOP districts, while these pro-Obamacare Democrats ran in +3 GOP districts. So, in nearly identical—even slightly less-favorable—districts, Democrats who voted against Obamacare won reelection at more than twice the clip (57 to 28 percent) of those who voted for it."

While Republicans made huge gains in the House in 2010, they actually lost seats in 2008 after the TARP vote. Ninety-one Republicans joined 172 Democrats in favor of the bailout in the final tally.

Pelosi said at the press conference that TARP votes had hurt Democrats in 2010.

"Pelosi is empirically incorrect," said Jay Cost, another Weekly Standard writer who has covered Obamacare, in an email. "If TARP was the culprit, why did the House Republicans who supported it not lose as well? That was a bipartisan bill, ultimately: supported largely by congressional Democrats but also by a Republican president."

Anderson also noted in his post that among citizens who described the economy as "not good" in 2010, 52 percent voted Democratic, while only 45 percent voted Republican.

"This election wasn’t mostly about the economy," he wrote. "It was about voters emphatically rejecting unlimited government, federal arrogance, and fiscal irresponsibility—and, in particular, the 2,700-page mound of legislation that best embodies all three."

Daniel Wiser   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Daniel Wiser is an assistant editor of National Affairs. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2013, where he studied Journalism and Political Science and was the State & National Editor for The Daily Tar Heel. He hails from Waxhaw, N.C., and currently lives in Washington, D.C. His Twitter handle is @TheWiserChoice.

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