'Obamacare' vs. 'Affordable Care Act': Does the name matter?

The Obama administration appears to again prefer 'Affordable Care Act,' whereas previously, the president had embraced the label 'Obamacare.'

Does it matter what President Obama calls his health-care reform law? That question arises because he’s seemed to shift his references in recent days. Previously, he’d embraced the label “Obamacare,” saying it reflected the fact that he did indeed care about uninsured Americans. But as Politico notes, that term now seems to have fallen into White House disfavor.

Instead, the administration appears to again prefer “Affordable Care Act” (ACA), which reflects the law’s full name, “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” That’s how Mr. Obama has been referring to it in public. Democratic Party talking points now emphasize the “Affordable Care Act” phrase.

“Calling it the Affordable Care Act has advantages for Democrats seeking to defend health care reform while still criticizing the bungled White House rollout,” Politico’s Reid J. Epstein wrote last week.

Think this is just a minor tweak, or maybe the media are reading too much into the president’s rhetoric? We’d say that’s highly unlikely. Administrations poll voters on the use of one word or another all the time. Indeed, that’s a technique used throughout US politics.

“It’s a truism in politics that labels matter,” Gallup’s editor in chief Frank Newport writes in his blog on survey techniques.

To show this, Gallup ran a poll that tested different ways to refer to the health-care law. The results showed that the name had at least a marginal effect on respondents’ opinions.

Gallup’s test went like this: Some people were asked whether they approved of the Affordable Care Act that had been signed into law by Obama. Some were simply asked if they liked the 2010 law that had changed the US health system. A third variant asked if respondents liked “Obamacare.” A fourth asked if they liked the “Affordable Care Act,” with no mention of Obama at all.

That last version polled the best. Using that question, Gallup found that 45 percent of respondents approved of the ACA and 49 percent disapproved.

In contrast, the version that referred only to “Obamacare” polled worst. Only 38 percent approved of Obamacare per se, while 54 percent of respondents disapproved.

“These results suggest that the Obama administration’s decision to shift to Affordable Care Act as their label of choice and to avoid using Obamacare would appear to be a branding strategy that works in the administration’s interest,” Mr. Newport writes. “Clearly, all else being equal, the words ‘Affordable Care Act’ engender a modestly more positive reaction than the term Obamacare.”

This shouldn’t be that surprising. Presidents can be polarizing. Lots of political science research shows that personal involvement on the part of a US chief executive makes political opponents view an issue in a more negative light.

We’d also note that even the best-case scenario in that Gallup poll shows that opinion of the ACA is more negative than positive. That probably reflects both the public’s long-felt wariness about the law and the continued negative publicity from its problematic rollout.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to 'Obamacare' vs. 'Affordable Care Act': Does the name matter?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today