Did Mitt Romney Win the "Health Care" Issue in 2012?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 28 2013 11:49 AM

Did Mitt Romney Win the "Health Care" Issue in 2012?

Former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis speaks during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Probably the best address at this weekend's National Review Institute summit (full write-up being published soon) came from former Rep. Artur Davis, a Democrat and early Obama backer who has become a visible, busy black conservative. (He was an under-appreciated surrogate for Romney). Davis warned conservatives that they have gotten terrific at talking amongst themselves, but weaker at bringing in new converts. And the field was set for them.

"When the American people were asked who would do a better job on the number one issue, the economy, they said Romney. When they were asked who would do a better job on the number two issue, spending, they said Romney. When they were asked who would do a better job on the number three issue? You see the pattern. Romney."

One National Review writer sitting next to me muttered, "Unbelievable." Was there any better proof that the party was winning on points but losing on messaging? Yes, because the way Davis got to that third data point suggests that the GOP is somewhat lost on health care. In the 2012 exit poll, asked about the "most important issue facing the country," 59 percent of voters said the economy, 18 percent said health care, and 15 percent said the deficit. Romney won "economy" voters 51-49, and won "deficit" voters 66-32. But Obama slaughtered Romney with "health care" voters, 75-24.


"I was thinking of the exit poll data that a majority favored the repeal of the Affordable Care Act," Davis tells me. "Perhaps not the same as a direct approval question on health care, but also a perfectly fair thread for the point that the electorate agreed with Republicans on much of what was litigated last cycle, but didn't trust the party to be reponsive to middle-class or working-class interests."

Sure enough, more voters supported repeal of the Affordable Care Act (49 percent) than wanted to keep it (44 percent). In breakdowns, only 25 percent wanted full repeal, but 24 percent wanted partial repeal. That ended up being Romney's promise. The Republican advantage on health care is theoretical, and wasn't fully in play in 2012.

Republicans know this. As I've been naggingly reporting, there's basically no momentum for full Obamacare repeal right now. In a little-noticed part of his NRI speech, Paul Ryan said that Obamacare had stopped being a bill and started being "12,000 pages of regulations." Message: Stop promising to repeal, start chipping away. Be specific. "If you can't afford health insurance," said New York Times columnist Ross Douthat at the conference, "Mitt Romney had nothing to say to you."

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics


The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.