Did Obamacare Cause Shift to Republicans Among Seniors?

So do you think Chuck Schumer’s over-simplifying things a bit in saying that Democrats blew up their majority by enacting the Affordable Care Act instead of agitating the air over the economy? Well, the estimable Tom Edsall goes to his defense by making the case–not a very good case, but a case nonetheless–that all the defections Democrats have experienced since 2008 were the product of the bad decision to pursue ACA instead of somehow “addressing” the economy in ways they did not.

Most strikingly, Edsall wonders if the entire shift of old white folks towards the GOP was the product of anger over Obamacare taking their money and giving it to those people:

The defection of seniors is most striking when comparing exit poll data from 2006 and 2010. In 2006, seniors of all races voted 52-48 for Democratic House candidates; in 2010, they voted 58-42 for Republican House candidates.

Trouble is, Edsall omits exit poll data from 2008, long before enactment of the Affordable Care Act, when seniors went Republican by a 53-45 margin (white seniors by a 58-40 margin) despite all the factors that would normally have led to a backlash against the party holding the White House. Something else has been going on with seniors that the decision to pursue health care reform may or may not have exacerbated but certainly did not cause.

The real thrust of the Schumer-Edsall argument is the very old and fundamentally cynical claim that Democrats get into trouble when they promote anything other than universal programs whose benefits disproportionately and unmistakably flow to the middle class. By this standard, Medicaid itself was a big mistake, and Democrats can never do well by doing good.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.