Following the surprise victory of Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-MA) in last week’s special election, conservatives have attempted to paint the election as a rejection of healthcare reform and progressive policies more generally.
Appearing on ABC’s This Week yesterday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) said, “what happened in Massachusetts” shows that “people are alarmed and angry about the spending, the debt, the government takeovers [including health care].” Conservative Washington Post columnist George Will said on This Week that Massachusetts “really was a health care election.” “This was a referendum on a particular piece of legislation that is the signature legislation of the administration, and the people of Massachusetts and the country are hotly angered over its substance,” Will said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), on Meet the Press yesterday, said, “the message in Massachusetts was absolutely clear. The exit polls that I looked at said 48 percent of the people in Massachusetts said they voted for the new senator over health care.” McConnell added: “The people are telling us, ‘Please don’t pass this bill.’”
This “referendum” on health reform meme has become near-conventional wisom, with the media and even some Democrats echoing it. But a new Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard poll undermines this assertion. The poll suggests that while the election was a “protest of the Washington process,” it was not a rejection of progressive policy. Only 11 percent of voters, including 19 percent of Brown voters, want Brown to “stop the Democratic agenda:”
- 70 percent of voters think Brown should work with Democrats on health care reform, including 48 percent of Brown voters.
- 52 percent of voters were enthusiastic/satisfied with Obama administration policies.
- 44 percent of voters believe “the country as a whole” would be better off with health care reform, but 23 percent believe Massachusetts would be better off.
- 68 percent of voters, including 51 percent of Brown voters approve of Massachusetts’ health care reform.
- 58 percent of all voters, including 37 percent of Brown voters, felt “dissatisfied/angry” with “the policies offered by the Republicans in Congress.”
A different poll, from Rasmussen Reports, cast doubt on the notion that Brown voters were primarily motivated by opposition to health care reform. The poll found that 52 percent of Brown voters said health care was their top issue, while an even greater percentage of people who voted for state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) — 63 percent — placed it first.
And as the Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky noted, Brown “doesn’t make a very convincing messenger for opposing the policy behind health reform,” considering he voted for his state’s health reform legislation in 2006. “He promised to be the 41st vote against reform because Massachusetts had already passed its own health reform bill, arguing that the state shouldn’t pay for the national effort,” Volsky added.
Igor Volsky notes that, in 2009, Scott Brown admitted that the public option might be “good for other parts of the country.”