On Eve of Subsidy Showdown, Republican Voters Ambivalent

Today, the Supreme Court begins deliberating the fate of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature achievement and the most polarizing law of his presidency. New polling data, released today by Morning Consult, tells a familiar story: Republicans say the court should, and will, strike down subsidies offered through federal health exchanges; Democrats want them preserved, and predict that King v. Burwell will vindicate Obamacare.

But where Democrats prove zealous on the issue of subsidies, favoring them with a considerable majority, Republicans prove ambivalent. GOP voters even warm to the idea of subsidies when they’re being offered through state-run exchanges.

King v. Burwell challenges the government’s right to issue healthcare subsidies through the federal exchange, commonly referred to as According to the plaintiffs, the statutory language of the law limits subsidies to state-run exchanges. A plurality of likely voters – 43 percent – said the court will uphold the subsidies, and a similar plurality – 42 percent – said it should.

Fifty-nine percent of subsidy supporters were Democrats, and at 42 percent Republicans constitute the largest slice of those opposing them. But where Democrats responded in near-unison, Republican respondents were more divided. Forty-seven percentage points separated Democrats supporting and opposing healthcare subsidies; for Republicans, that delta shrunk to 16 percentage points.

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It’s not as if conservatives have been silent on King v. Burwell; speaking at the Heritage Foundation, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) discussed what he thinks is at stake in the high court’s decision. “Is the president bound to the law, or can he simply ignore provisions he doesn’t like in order to further his political agenda?” Hatch asked on Feb. 23. “Text matters. Words matter. What the statute says is what matters, because at the end of the day, the words of the statute and the constitution are what bind our leaders.”

Yet Republican voters are less enthusiastic. If this sounds familiar, it should: last year, Democrats struggled (and ultimately failed) to energize their constituents over healthcare.

If King v. Burwell strikes down subsidies, 67 percent of voters say their state’s governor should establish a state-based exchange that would offer subsidies to eligible enrollees. Half of Republican respondents agreed, suggesting conservatives may be more open to subsidies so long as they’re not offered by the federal government. It also signals an engagement with the core argument behind the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell: that, according to the letter of the law, subsidies should flow from the state, not from Washington.

In the weeks leading up to oral arguments, politicians and pundits have taken to the podium and the op-ed pages to sound off on subsidies, the Affordable Care Act and the Obama presidency at large. The heated discourse has raised the case’s profile among voters: Sixty three percent have heard about the lawsuit.

The court is expected to return a decision before the end of June, when its current session ends.

The poll was conducted from Feb. 27 through March 1 among a national sample of 1,245 registered voters. Results had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Morning Consult