Jimmy Kimmel’s Obamacare stunt: How infallible is public opinion?

Good news, President Obama: Americans support the Affordable Care Act, as Jimmy Kimmel showed Tuesday night. The bad news: They hate Obamacare.

Of course, we all know that “Obamacare” is the pejorative shorthand for the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s 2010 healthcare reform law being held ransom by House Republicans who cite the American people’s dislike of the legislation as their reason for bringing much of the federal government to a halt.

Correction: As Kimmel showed, some of us know.

The late-night show host mocked this misinformed opposition by having a camera crew ask several people on Hollywood Boulevard if they preferred the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Most of the respondents signaled their skepticism of Obamacare while heaping praise on the Affordable Care Act. One woman -- who apparently liked the ring of “Affordable Care Act” -- warned that Obamacare is just one step on the way to a national gun ban.


Kimmel’s sketch is noteworthy because in this shutdown standoff, politicians on both sides claim the sacrosanct wisdom of the American people as on their side. But the “American people” includes people such as these, so willing to go on camera and confidently assert absurd falsehoods. How much should they have the ears of our politicians?

To their credit, nearly three-fourths of Americans don’t want Congress to shut down the government as a way to stop the Affordable Care act, according to a Bloomberg poll. But polls also show the American public is also divided over the healthcare law; most disapprove of it (though why they do so isn’t as simple as many conservatives say), giving the GOP a pretext of populism.

The question isn’t new: How much should lawmakers be guided by polls? Should they, for example, take the advice of the majority of Americans who think the procedural vote whether the raise the nation’s debt ceiling should also contain spending cuts, even if including those cuts risks a catastrophic default by the federal government?

I could be wrong here, but most members of Congress are smarter than your average voter. They’re more aware than Joe the Plumber of the devastating effect a failure to raise the federal borrowing limit would have on our economy; similarly, they’re no doubt more familiar with the details of the Affordable Care Act than a typical poll respondent who isn’t paid as they are to read a few thousand pages of complicated legislation.


We can only hope those holding the Affordable Care Act hostage start governing as if they know better than Kimmel’s people on the street.


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