Did Obamacare Really Cost Democrats The Florida Special Election Last Night?

CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Nesius

Congressman-elect David Jolly (R-FL)

It didn’t take long for media outlets and national Republicans to paint Democrat Alex Sink’s Tuesday night loss to GOP candidate David Jolly in Florida’s 13th District special election as a referendum on the Affordable Care Act. “Thank God for Obamacare,” Rep. John Duncan (R-TN) reportedly told GOP colleagues after Jolly’s victory was announced.

But the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent pointed out a memo on Wednesday from Geoff Garin of the Democratic polling firm GarinHartYoung finding that Jolly’s hardline anti-Obamacare position actually hurt him in the race, and that other factors are to blame for Sink’s loss.

According to GarinHartYoung’s polling, Independent voters in the FL-13 election preferred a candidate who wanted to fix existing problems with the ACA — Sink’s position — to one with Jolly’s stance that Obamacare should be repealed in its entirety by a 57 percent to 31 percent margin. In fact, the polling outfit tested voters’ reactions to the most common Obamacare-related attacks used by both Sink and Jolly and found that criticisms of Jolly’s position actually caused voters to harbor greater doubts about his candidacy:

ghy memo fl-13 obamacare

CREDIT: GarinHartYoung Research Group

“[I]n every poll we conducted, Sink had a larger advantage over Jolly on Obamacare than she had in the core trial heat question — indicating that the issue ultimately provided more of a lift than a drag to her campaign,” wrote Garin, concluding that Republicans’ large voter registration advantage in the region and the district’s history as a GOP stronghold were more likely reasons for Sink’s loss.

ThinkProgress interviewed several Jolly supporters last week and found that many seniors — including some who had already voted for Jolly — weren’t big fans of his “repeal Obamacare” position. “I don’t like that — I would prefer if there was safety for people less fortunate than I am,” said 87-year-old Jolly voter Terry O’Reilly. “Obamacare is a heck of a lot better than nothing.”

“I would have a good discussion with [Jolly] about that,” added O’Reilly’s friend and fellow Republican Carmen Sagnella.

More than 440,000 Floridians enrolled in private health plans through the state’s Obamacare marketplace between October and February, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Florida actually saw the largest number of ACA enrollments of any state in February, when more than 145,000 people signed up for coverage.