The Obama administration appears to again prefer ‘Affordable Care
Act,’ whereas previously, the president had embraced the label
By Peter Grier
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
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 U.S. 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
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 U.S. 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.