Lack Of Information And Misinformation Suppressing Enrollment In Insurance Plans

Recent polls are showing some of the obstacles to extending coverage among the uninsured. A study published Monday by the National Academy of Sciences showed that a substantial number of consumers lack basic knowledge of how insurance works which would be necessary to intelligently purchase coverage. A new Kaiser Health Tracking Poll shows lack of knowledge of the deadline for obtaining coverage and widespread belief in many of the false claims being spread by opponents of the Affordable Care Act.

Many are unaware of next week’s deadline to obtain coverage and avoid potential tax penalties:

A third of those who lack coverage as of mid-March are unaware that the law requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine. When it comes to the specifics, four in ten of the uninsured (39 percent) are aware that the deadline to sign up for coverage is at the end of March, leaving about six in ten unaware of the March deadline.

When reminded of the mandate and the deadline, half of those without coverage as of mid-March say they think they will remain uninsured, while four in ten expect to obtain coverage and one in ten are unsure.

Many plan to not obtain coverage due to cost concerns, unaware of financial assistance available:

While some report trying to get coverage from new options available under the ACA, large shares of the uninsured remain unaware of two of the law’s key provisions that could help them get coverage. About half the uninsured are unaware that the ACA gives states the option of expanding their Medicaid programs, and more than four in ten don’t know that it provides financial help to low- and moderate-income individuals to help them purchase coverage.

The Kaiser poll showed a reduction in the gap between those who see the law unfavorably as opposed to favorably. While more now have a favorable opinion than previously, the majority continue to have an unfavorable opinion. Much of the opposition is based upon misinformation spread by opponents:

“It’s too expensive for regular people.”
“it’s costing too much money. It’s supposed to help people with low incomes and it’s not.”
“Because it’s a financial hardship on the U.S.”

The first two are based upon lack of knowledge of the assistance available which does make coverage more affordable. The third has been shown by the recent non-partisan report from the Congressional Budget Office to be false. Among its other benefits, the Affordable Care Act will reduce the deficit, reduce unemployment, and help stimulate the economy by freeing people from the insurance trap, enabling more people to work for and start small businesses

Opposition also includes a belief that the individual mandate is unconstitutional despite a Supreme Court ruling upholding the law. Some expressed the false belief that the ACA gives government more control over personal health care choices, echoing further scare stories from the right wing as to what the law does.

Despite unfavorable views about the law, a majority still would prefer to see improvement to the law as opposed to repeal or a Republican alternative:

Perhaps reflecting this sense that the debate has gone on long enough, more of the public would like to see Congress keep the law in place and work to improve it (49 percent) or keep it as is (10 percent) rather than repeal it and replace it with a Republican-sponsored alternative (11 percent) or repeal it outright (18 percent).

The poll found that many aspects of the law are popular, even if many people are unaware of these and other benefits:

As previous Kaiser tracking polls have found, many of the ACA’s major provisions continue to be quite popular, including across party lines. For example, large shares of Americans – including at least seven in ten overall and at least six in ten Democrats, Republicans, and independents – have a favorable view of the fact that the law allows young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans up to age 26, closes the Medicare “doughnut hole” for prescription drug coverage, provides subsidies to low- and moderate-income Americans to help them purchase coverage, eliminates cost-sharing for preventive services, gives states the option of expanding Medicaid, and prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Nearly as many (including a majority across parties) have a favorable view of the “medical loss ratio” provision that requires insurance companies to give their customers a rebate if they spend too little money on services and too much on administration and profits. Somewhat more divisive is the law’s Medicare payroll tax on earnings for upper-income Americans, which is viewed favorably by about three-quarters of Democrats and just over half of independents, but just a third of Republicans.

The individual mandate remains highly unpopular. Anticipation of this is one of the reasons I opposed the individual mandate prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act, preferring an alternate system to provide incentives to purchase coverage and penalize those who try to game the system by waiting until sick to purchase insurance.

Much of the opposition to the ACA is based upon beliefs about the law which are untrue:

Misperceptions also persist about things the ACA does not actually do. For example, nearly half the public (46 percent) think the law allows undocumented immigrants to receive financial help from the government to buy health insurance, and another two in ten (22 percent) are unsure whether it does. A third of the public (34 percent, including 32 percent of seniors) believe the law establishes a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare, with another quarter saying they are unsure (23 percent of the public, 25 percent of seniors).

Unfortunately both lack of information and intentional misinformation being spread by opponents of the Affordable Care Act is likely to cause a substantial number of people to go without coverage this year. The deadline is fast approaching for purchasing coverage on the exchanges. There is no deadline for those who qualify for coverage due to Medicaid expansion, but Republicans in many states are also denying this benefit to residents of their states even though the federal government picks up almost all of the cost.

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Republican Candidate And Pro-Republican Ad Both Making False Claims About Obamacare

Brian Buetler points out that the conservative claims of people not signing up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act are falling apart as we reach the end of the open enrollment period:

Charles Gaba — an ACA supporter and data Hoover — has been documenting the March surge, state by state on his Twitter account and his site, ACAsignups.net. Gaba has the best numbers out there, and has been accurately forecasting official enrollment statistics for weeks. He currently projects total exchange enrollment will hit 6.2 million by the end of the month, not counting enrollment in off-exchange plans, and puts the grand beneficiary total (including Medicaid beneficiaries and “young invincibles” on their parents’ plans) at 11.9-15.6 million as of Saturday. Conservatives are thus, to no one’s surprise, furiously attempting to “un-skew” his figures.

And, as Vanderbilt health policy and med school professor John Graves notes in Health Affairs, turnover is a major hallmark of the insurance market. People who lose or change jobs, and thus become temporarily uninsured, will be eligible for ACA enrollment, even after March 31. Medicaid, isn’t bound by open enrollment. As such, enrollment numbers will continue to grow throughout the election season. Exchange beneficiaries might even reach the elusive 7 million total this year, a few months late, but before the midterms.

He also noted a “glaring error” regarding the Affordable Care Act in a conference call for Michigan Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land. Such errors are quite common whenever Republicans talk about health care. He pointed out that Land’s proposal (an idea commonly promoted by Republicans) could lead to anyone whose coverage lapses being permanently denied insurance coverage.

Just as incorrect and claims about Obamacare are common from Land and other Republican candidates, Glenn Kessler points out that the latest ad from the Koch financed Americans For Prosperity is making more misleading claims:

“Millions of people have lost their health insurance”

We’ve repeatedly written about this claim, most recently when House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) incorrectly claimed that so many people have lost insurance that there’s even been “a net loss” of people with insurance. Actually, there has been an increase in the number of people with insurance, though not as much as the Obama administration had hoped.

The Associated Press estimated that nearly 5 million Americans had their insurance canceled, but a large percentage of the people whose old plans were canceled were automatically moved to new plans offered by the same insurance companies. These people may not be happy with their new coverage, but they got a plan without going through HealthCare.gov. Precise figures are not available, as the insurance market is private and fragmented, but insurance company officials say a majority of people could move to new plans they were offered.

The White House last year ordered an administrative fix that, depending on the actions of individual states, allowed as many as 2.3 million people with “canceled plans” to simply stay on their old plans for at least another year. (In early March, the White House extended that deadline to 2016.) The administration in December also announced a new catastrophic exemption to fill any remaining gaps in coverage — estimated to affect as many as 500,000 people.

In other words, only in a narrow sense have “millions” lost their health insurance.

“Millions of people can’t see their own doctors”

This sweeping statement could just as well describe the world before implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Most Americans get their insurance through their employers, and those plans could be changed at any time. Moreover, when people change jobs, they often also change health plans, which could also force changes in doctors. Of course, most plans do not prevent you from seeing a doctor who is not in a network; instead, your co-pays would be higher.

AFP in the past has run ads that feature people upset at losing their doctors, but this line is misleading because it presumes that everything was perfect before the Affordable Care Act became law.

“Millions are paying more and getting less”

This is another sweeping statement, and the most misleading. (Advocates could argue back that “millions more are paying less and getting more.”)

In terms of premiums, there is a fierce dispute now among policy experts about the impact of the law on the cost of health care. When we previously looked at this issue, after President Obama claimed that the law “has helped the cost of health care grow at its slowest rate in 50 years,” we settled on a “verdict pending.” It’s still difficult to compare premiums from before the law with premiums after the law — or to determine how much the law has to do with health-care costs today.

One big reason why it is difficult to compare premiums, before and after, is because the law mandates a comprehensive package of benefits — benefits that many plans in the individual market previously lacked. That increase in insurance coverage, according to a Congressional Budget Office study in 2009, was expected to boost the premiums of nongroup plans by about 30 percent, but the impact would be negligible for large group plans, which already provided many of those benefits.

But, wait, there’s more: Other factors were expected to reduce premiums in the individual market, so the total difference (before subsidies) was an increase of 10 to 13 percent per person. For people receiving subsidies, the cost of premiums in the individual market would actually decline nearly 60 percent, CBO calculated.

In other words, the insurance premiums may be slightly higher for some — or significantly lower for many — but the plans are also more robust.

So how does AFP justify that people are getting “less”? Levi Russell said the ad is referring to narrower health-care networks. He pointed The Fact Checker to an article in The Wall Street Journal on a McKinsey & Co. report that found that the percentage of plans with “ultranarrow” or “narrow” hospital networks had increased — though that also meant lower premium costs. In fact, many people apparently would happily pay less to get less.

“McKinsey found that nearly two-thirds of about 150,000 consumers surveyed since 2011 said they were willing to trade provider choice to lower their premium costs,” the article said.

Insurance companies have also been going to more restricted panels of physicians for several years, and this likely would have increased with or without the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act also increases the chances people can keep their own doctor as consumers will have more choices in health care plans, giving them greater opportunity to sign up for a plan which their doctor is in.

Update: Lack Of Information And Misinformation Suppressing Enrollment In Insurance Plans

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Three Types Of Obamacare Winners You Might Not Have Thought Of

Despite all the fake horror stories being spread by conservatives, the vast majority of people in this country are benefiting significantly under the Affordable Care Act. Some benefit due to being able to obtain health insurance when they were not able to in the past due to pre-existing medical conditions and/or cost. Many also benefit due to receiving heath care coverage which cannot be cancelled, cannot have rates increased due to medical problems, and which do not have limitations in coverage which previous polices had. There are three winners which you might not have thought of before–Medicare patients with terminal illnesses, people who bought insurance without subsidies but still came out ahead, and Republicans who benefit from Obamacare.

In contrast to false claims of Medicare cuts, the Affordable Care Act increases benefits for Medicare beneficiaries such as phasing out the donut hole on prescription drugs and covering preventative services which were not previously covered. There are a number of additional aspects of the Affordable Care Act which have not received much attention. One is a demonstration project to consider allowing Hospice patients to receive both curative and palliative care.

Hospice offers extremely valuable services for dying patients, but currently Medicare does not cover Hospice services if a patient continues to receive treatments aimed at attempting cure of a disease. Quite often I have had patients who are terminally ill who could benefit from Hospice services to increase comfort but do not qualify because they want to continue medical treatment. Under this demonstration project, patients will have the option, for example, to both receive chemotherapy and to receive Hospice services aimed at enabling them to die more comfortably if the treatment is not a success.

This is just one of many areas where the Affordable Care Act provides more choice than patients had previously, and I hope that Medicare does make this change for all Medicare patients.

Andrew Sprung discussed another group of winners who are “satisfied unsubsidized.” We have surpassed five million people receiving insurance on the exchanges and it now appears likely that the number will surpass six million due to the surge in people signing up this month. An estimated six million additional are signing up directly through insurance companies, which can be done if not applying for subsidies. Sprung began:

About half of the 12 million Americans buying health insurance on the individual market are subsidy-ineligible, according to the Urban Institute. Are they all fuming and lining up to appear in anti-Obamacare commercials?

Chances are not. As veterans of the individual market, many are accustomed to its shocks and uncertainties. About a quarter of them received cancellation notices last fall, and others face substantial premium hikes. Some will be forced to pay more than in the past, in some cases in part because they are covered for services they don’t want, like childbirth or mental healthcare. But many are finding their options much better and their status less precarious than in the pre-ACA market.

I spoke recently to several people whose family income disqualifies them for subsidies and who bought insurance on the individual market for 2014. All had family members with preexisting conditions, which means they benefited from the ACA’s prohibition on basing price or eligibility on medical history. All had been paying above-market rates or faced limited choices because of a family member’s medical history…

This special category is huge, though. The percentage of Americans with preexisting conditions is anywhere from 19 to 50 percent, according to an HHS report overviewing various studies. And that’s just individuals—in households with more than one person, the chances that someone will have a medical condition that jacked up the price of insurance in the pre-ACA world multiplies.

Sprung gave some specific examples who are far more representative of the changes under the Affordable Care Act than those shown on television by conservative groups with fake horror stories. The satisfied unsubsidized also includes an additional group, people such as myself who did not have to pay higher rates in the past due to medical problems and are paying more now, but still benefit because of now having a policy which cannot be cancelled due to changes in medical condition. Sprung acknowledged us in concluding:

It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that those untroubled by preexisting conditions or by the need to find insurance in the individual market can lose those advantages at any moment—as well as their financial status. Uncertainty is the universal preexisting condition—and thanks to the ACA, such changes should no longer threaten financial ruin or lack of access to medical care.

When listening to the fake horror stories being spread by Republicans, keep in mind that before the Affordable Care Act medical expenses were a major cause of bankruptcies in this country, and three fourths who declared bankruptcy did have medical coverage at the time they became sick or injured.

Last month I looked at Republicans who have benefited from Obamacare and learned to love it. Scott Brown learned about this last Saturday:

Brown found that out on Saturday, when he stopped by the home of Herb Richardson, a Republican state representative. Sitting in Richardson’s home, Brown called Obamacare a “monstrosity” that members of Congress didn’t even bother to read before they passed. At that point, according to the Coos County Democrat, Richardson chimed in to explain that the law had been a “financial lifesaver” for him and his wife. From the the piece (page 14):

Richardson was injured on the job and was forced to live on his workers’ comp payments for an extended period of time, which ultimately cost the couple their house on Williams Street. The couple had to pay $1,100 a month if they wanted to maintain their health insurance coverage under the federal COBRA law.

Richardson said he only received some $2,000 a month in workers’ comp. payments, however, leaving little for them to live on.

“Thank God for Obamacare!” his wife exclaimed.

Now, thanks to the subsidy for which they qualify, the Richardsons only pay $136 a month for health insurance that covers them both.

With so many people benefiting from Obamacare, many Democrats are making a huge mistake by failing to run for reelection based upon this. As I wrote earlier in the week, Democrats need to go on the offensive on health care reform. Explaining these benefits is the only way to counter negative ads and negative polling results based upon misinformation.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Democrats Need To Go On The Offensive On Health Care

Yesterday I posted in frustration as to how the Democrats managed to allow the Republicans to both sabotage an effort to repeal the Sustainable Growth Formula and use the Affordable Care Act once again as a political pawn. I found that Greg Sargent had interviewed Paul Begala, who had said something similar to my conclusion about Democrats fighting for the Affordable Care Act and added that to the post. In retrospect this message is far too important to leave at the end of the post, and it is well worth repeating (with additional information and commentary).

As I concluded yesterday, despite all of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, Democrats remain on the defensive politically. The Affordable Care Act is turning into a major success, providing millions with health insurance coverage and ending the ability of insurance companies to abuse the system by finding ways to sell policies and then avoid paying out. No longer are people denied coverage, or have their coverage taken away, due to becoming sick or losing their jobs. In addition,  Obamacare frees people from the “insurance trap” which forced people who otherwise do not need to work to continue working for insurance coverage, along with other overall benefits to the economy. The Congressional Budget Office Report, frequently distorted by Republicans, showed that the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment, help decrease the deficit, and allow more people to leave large corporations to start small businesses, further stimulating the economy.

While granted the Republicans have a strong propaganda machine delivering their misinformation, and a media willing to repeat Republican lies as if they are equally valid as statements of fact, Democrats should be able to do a better job of gaining support when the facts are so firmly on their side. The same is true of health care issues in general, as Republicans have managed to put Democrats on the defensive over bogus claims of Medicare cuts while the Republicans seek to turn Medicare into a voucher system which would destroy the program as we know it.

Democrats need to follow the advice of Paul BegalaStop being so damn defensive about the law and show people it’s worth fighting for, already.

Begala thinks Dems can address it with a simple flipping of the script. Dems now debating how to talk about Obamacare seem to be leading defensively with their willingness to fix the law. Instead, Begala says, they should lead with an attack on Republicans that is framed as a medical rights issue – before pivoting to fixing the law — and then wrap it all up in a larger message about how Republicans have no answers to people’s health care or economic problems.

“We should open by saying, ‘my opponent wants to repeal your rights,’” Begala said. “He wants to take away your right to be protected against discrimination because you have a preexisting condition. He wants to take away your right to be protected against discrimination for being older or being a woman. He wants to take away the closing of the Medicare donut hole for seniors.”

“That’s point one,” he continued. “Then you say, ‘look, I’m open to working with everybody to fix the law. But I’ll never let them go back to the days where insurance companies could send letters saying your coverage has been canceled because you have a preexisting condition.’”

And then from there to an economic message: “Repeal is their whole agenda. They have no ideas for giving you a pay raise. No ideas for raising the minimum wage. No ideas about how to create jobs. No ideas about how to get your kid into pre-K. Their entire agenda as a party is repeal — to take away rights that you have won. I’m not going to let them do that.”

Elections have increasingly become about getting one’s base out to vote as opposed to converting others. Many on the far right are angry about Obamacare based upon misinformation they have heard, and this will get them out to vote. Democrats need to mobilize their voters by better informing them of what they stand to lose if the Republicans win. If Republicans can run ads with horror stories which aren’t even true, why aren’t Democrats running ads with actual horror stories of people losing their coverage and going into bankruptcy under the old system? Most people going into bankruptcy from medical expenses were insured at the time they first got sick or injured. Is this the system we want to return to?

Sure the new web site began with serious glitches, but buying insurance on the individual market was never a picnic. Policies were expensive, frequently had high deductibles, and often required seeing a limited panel of doctors. These complaints about insurance are nothing new. What has changed is that previously having a pre-existing medical condition might lead to a policy not being sold, or greatly increase the cost. Policies would have limitations, frequently failing to pay enough to cover serious illnesses such as caps on total coverage. Some policies would only cover inpatient or outpatient services, fail to cover prescriptions, or not cover preventative services.

Democrats should never have been placed on the defensive about bogus Medicare cuts when they are the party which is trying to protect the system, and when the Affordable Care Act benefits seniors by phasing out the donut hole and adding preventative services. Point out that the only cuts under Obamacare are to corporate welfare to Medicare Advantage plans, not cuts in benefits, and that the proposed Republican budgets included the very same cuts. Remind them of what the Republican plan for Medicare really is:

Democrats need to remind people of the benefits they are receiving under Obamacare, and what they risk by Republican calls for repeal. Use the over fifty votes by Republicans to repeal or hinder Obamacare to both mock them and  make voters angry about the Republicans wish to do. Ideally this will both motivate more Democratic voters to turn out to vote this November and  maybe even change the minds of some voters.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Republican House Plays Politics, Screwing Both Doctors And Medicare Patients

After several years a deal had been reached to permanently repeal the flawed Sustainable Growth Formula but the House Republicans chose to play politics with it. The House Republicans showed a disregard for both physicians and  Medicare beneficiaries. They attached the fix to a five year delay on the individual mandate, knowing that this would be dead in the Senate.

The Sustainable Growth Formula was initially devised to give doctors increased Medicare reimbursement if medical costs go down and decrease reimbursement if costs rise. The formula was quickly found to be flawed. Individual physicians cannot control the overall trajectory of Medicare expenses regardless of the financial rewards or penalties. The formula failed to take into account overall increases in costs we have experienced over the past decade as a result of an aging population and new medical technology. As a result, the formula would reduce Medicare payments to physicians to a level below what doctors could afford to see Medicare patients for. Reimbursement from Tricare, which covers military families, is also tied to Medicare reimbursement. Congress has realized that the cuts were not tolerable and has repeatedly voted for a “doc fix” to circumvent the automatic cuts called for under the Sustainable Growth Formula.

The persistence of this problem over the past decade has eroded confidence in the federal government and the Medicare program, leading some physicians to stop accepting Medicare patients. Even Congress finally realized that something had to be done and an agreement was reached in principle between the federal government and physician organizations for a new payment structure to replace the Sustainable Growth Formula. The House had the opportunity to pass this as a clean bill today, but instead played politics by attaching it to a delay to the individual mandate.

It is getting difficult to keep count but I believe this is now the fifty-first vote to either repeal or greatly interfere with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The individual mandate is a necessary component of the Affordable Care Act as currently structured. If insurance companies are required to provide coverage to everyone applying, they need protection against the problem of people not buying insurance until they become ill. In order for the system to function, insurance companies need the premiums from healthy people coming into the system every year to cover the expenses of those who are ill.

There are potentially other ways to solve the free rider problem but it is not possible to simply eliminate the individual mandate without implementing alternative measures to provide strong incentives for people to purchase insurance coverage while still healthy. While I had preferred using other measures instead of the mandate when health care reform was being considered, unlike the House Republicans I recognize when an issue has been settled and see no sense in continuing to fight the same battle. The Affordable Care Act is established law which has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Congress should be concentrating on making some necessary fixes (as any law of this complexity would require) to smooth its implementation as opposed to trying to sabotage it.

Twelve Democrats voted with the Republicans out of political fears. The Affordable Care Act is turning into a major success, providing millions with health insurance coverage and ending the ability of insurance companies to abuse the system by finding ways to sell policies and then avoid paying out. In addition,  Obamacare frees people from the “insurance trap” which forced people who otherwise do not need to work to continue working for insurance coverage, along with other overall benefits to the economy. The Congressional Budget Office Report, frequently distorted by Republicans, showed that the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment, help decrease the deficit, and allow more people to leave large corporations to start small businesses, further stimulating the economy.

Despite all of these benefits, Democrats remain on the defensive politically. While granted the Republicans have a strong propaganda machine delivering their misinformation, and a media willing to repeat Republican lies as if they are equally valid as statements of fact, Democrats should be able to do a better job of gaining support when the facts are so firmly on their side. The same is true of health care issues in general, as Republicans have managed to put Democrats on the defensive over bogus claims of Medicare cuts while the Republicans seek to turn Medicare into a voucher system which would destroy the program as we know it.

Democrats need to follow the advice of Paul BegalaStop being so damn defensive about the law and show people it’s worth fighting for, already.

Begala thinks Dems can address it with a simple flipping of the script. Dems now debating how to talk about Obamacare seem to be leading defensively with their willingness to fix the law. Instead, Begala says, they should lead with an attack on Republicans that is framed as a medical rights issue – before pivoting to fixing the law — and then wrap it all up in a larger message about how Republicans have no answers to people’s health care or economic problems.

“We should open by saying, ‘my opponent wants to repeal your rights,’” Begala said. “He wants to take away your right to be protected against discrimination because you have a preexisting condition. He wants to take away your right to be protected against discrimination for being older or being a woman. He wants to take away the closing of the Medicare donut hole for seniors.”

“That’s point one,” he continued. “Then you say, ‘look, I’m open to working with everybody to fix the law. But I’ll never let them go back to the days where insurance companies could send letters saying your coverage has been canceled because you have a preexisting condition.’”

And then from there to an economic message: “Repeal is their whole agenda. They have no ideas for giving you a pay raise. No ideas for raising the minimum wage. No ideas about how to create jobs. No ideas about how to get your kid into pre-K. Their entire agenda as a party is repeal — to take away rights that you have won. I’m not going to let them do that.”

All Democrats should have also stood up for both physicians and Medicare patients today and demanded a clean vote on the repeal of the Sustainable Growth Formula as opposed to tying it to yet another attempt to thwart Obamacare. If Democrats did something as silly as vote over fifty times to repeal the same thing while otherwise failing to legislate, imagine how the right wing noise machine would be mocking them.

Cross Posted at The Moderate Voice

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Tying Republicans To The Koch Brothers To Campaign Against Plutocracy

Republicans often do a better job of messaging than Democrats, but they make their job much easier by making things up. They don’t care that the economic theories they promote have no relationship to how the economy really works or if the “facts” they use to justify their policies with are frequently false. Democrats have a tougher time explaining the problems caused by an economic system which has increasingly been rigged to transfer wealth to the top one tenth of one percent at the expense of the middle class. Those who do not understand the dangerous degree of concentration of wealth in a tiny plutocracy, and how this harms the entire economy, easily fall for bogus Republican economic arguments and false cries of socialism.

Republicans succeed with phony elevator pitches that they stand for capitalism and limited government. Democrats must stop letting Republicans get away with these misrepresentations. Republicans who promote plutocracy are no more supporters of capitalism than Republicans who support the agenda of the religious right are supporters of limited government. Of course I mean a main street form of capitalism in which people who work can profit from their efforts, as opposed to the Republican false-capitalism of using government to rig the system for the benefit of the ultra-wealthy.

As I noted recently, Democrats have recently been trying to make their case by standing up to the Koch brothers. Besides financing many of the dishonest ads spreading misinformation about the Affordable Care Act, the Koch brothers have made their fortune by taking advantage of government, and then come out with faux cries for libertarianism to protest needed regulations on their business. Greg Sargent explained the Democratic strategy:

As I noted the other day, this is all about creating a framework within which voters can be made to understand the actual policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on. This is what the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney were all about: Dem focus groups showed voters simply didn’t believe Romney would cut entitlements (per the Paul Ryan plan) while cutting taxes on the rich. The Bain narrative made Romney’s actual priorities more comprehensible.

The Koch attacks are designed to do something similar. They aren’t really about the Kochs. They are a proxy for the one percent, a means through which to tap into a general sense that the economy remains rigged in favor of the very wealthy. Placed into this frame, GOP policies – opposition to raising the minimum wage; the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would redistribute wealth upwards; opposition to the Medicaid expansion, which AFP is fighting in multiple states –  become more comprehensible as part of a broader storyline. In that narrative, Republican candidates are trying to maintain or even exacerbate an economic status quo that’s stacked against ordinary Americans, while Dems are offering solutions to boost economic mobility and reduce inequality, which are increasingly pressing public concerns.

In many ways this strategy is born of necessity. The 2014 fundamentals are stacked heavily against Democrats, who are defending seven Senate seats in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 that are older, whiter, and redder than the diversifying national electorate. This is made even worse by the midterm electorate, in which core Dem groups are less likely to turn out.

GOP attacks on the health law in red states are not just about Obamacare. They are, more broadly, about casting Senate Dems as willing enablers of the hated president and blaming the sputtering recovery on #Obummer Big Gummint, to channel people’s economic anxieties into a vote to oust Dem incumbents. With the law and its author deeply unpopular in these states, Dems can’t really run on any Obama accomplishments. So they need to make these campaigns about the fact that Republican candidates don’t have an actual agenda to boost people’s economic prospects, and indeed are beholden to a broader agenda that has made the problem worse, even as Dems offer a concrete economic mobility agenda of their own. The goal is to boost turnout among Dem constituencies while minimizing losses among the older, blue collar, and rural whites that predominate in these states.

Adding such a framework may help, but there are limitations to the comparison to how Mitt Romney was harmed by the attacks for his actions at Bain. Romney was directly responsible for the actions he performed at Bain. Republican candidates are not directly responsible for the actions of the Koch brothers, and most people have no idea who they are. Democrats need to both explain why voters should oppose this type of policy and make the case that the Republican candidates are also promoting these ideas. I suspect that this might be too complicated for many of the voters the Democrats hope to attract, especially the low-information non-college educated white working class males who I recently discussed here and here, along with others brainwashed by Fox and right wing talk radio. If strategy helps, it will more likely help by motivating more Democrats to turn out as opposed to attracting additional voters.

Maybe this will work, and perhaps the wisdom of this approach will be clearer after it plays out. Unfortunately simpler elevator pitches typically prevail–an explanation of a position which can be explained in the span of an elevator ride. Explain how Republican economic policies are bad for the middle class and lead to economic stagnation. Democrats need to counter trickle down economics with trickle up economics. The rich don’t need any more special favors from government. They are doing quite fine on their own, and when more wealth is given to them, they are less likely to spend it. Instead concentrate on stimulating the economy and keeping more money in the hands of the middle class. The poor and middle class are far more likely to spend a higher percentage of their money, further stimulating the economy.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Republicans, White Working Class Voters, And Race

White working class males present a particular frustration for Democratic strategists. Most independent economists agree that Republican economic policies have increasingly led to redistribution of  wealth to the ultra-wealthy at the expense of the middle class yet Republicans obtain the majority of votes from low-information white voters who are hurt the most by Republican policies.  Last week I looked at attempts by Democrats to regain the votes of white males. This is hindered by low-information voters being misled by Republican misinformation (while better educated white male voters are more likely to vote Democratic). Many vote contrary to their economic self-interest based upon social issues. This is all reinforced by the Republican southern strategy which enhances economic insecurity by playing on racial fears.

Thomas B. Edsall has an op-ed in The New York Times on How Democrats Can Compete for the White Working Class. His analysis actually leaves many reasons for Democrats to remain gloomy about these prospects. He began with some differences in attitudes between these less-educated white voters and the general population in surveys conducted by Democracy Corps:

Democracy Corps found that less well-educated whites agree, by a huge 46.2 percentage point margin, with the statement “When something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful.” This is 11.6 points more than all voters.

Similarly, the general public agrees that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves” by a 19.5 percentage point margin, while whites who did not go to college agree by half that.

He also cited a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute from September 2012 entitled “Beyond Guns and God: Understanding the Complexities of the White Working Class in America.” This also showed that working class whites tend to be more conservative on social issues but also that this was far more the case in the south. Grouping these numbers nationally made these voters appear more conservative on social issues than is actually the case:

…while working-class whites in the South opposed same-sex marriage by 61-32 in the P.R.R.I. survey, in the Northeast they favored it 57-37; in the West they were split 47-45; and in the Midwest they were modestly opposed, 44-49. In the case of abortion, majorities of non-college whites outside of the South believe the practice should be legal, while those in the South were opposed 54-42.

In general, the findings of the P.R.R.I. study suggest that outside the South, Democrats should be able to make significant inroads among working-class whites – and, in fact, they have. In 2008, when Obama was losing nationally by 18 points among noncollege whites, in Michigan he carried these voters 52-46; in Illinois, 53-46; and in Connecticut, 51-47.

There remains another huge stumbling block to Democrats winning these white votes–race:

The P.R.R.I. study did point to one Democratic stumbling block: affirmative action and “reverse discrimination.”

Three out of five working-class whites believe “that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.” This view is strongest in the South, at 69 percent, but it is the majority conviction of working-class whites in all regions of the country, where it is never lower than 55 percent.

In another key measure of white working-class racial resentment, the P.R.R.I. survey found that by a margin of three percentage points, the white working class agreed “that the government has paid too much attention to the problems of minorities.” White noncollege voters were split down the middle on this issue in the Northeast and Midwest. In the South, 58 percent agreed.

Thirty years ago, in the aftermath of the 1984 presidential election in which Ronald Reagan crushed Walter Mondale, Democrats were deeply alarmed over the defection of blue-collar voters.

Stan Greenberg, the Democratic pollster, conducted focus groups in 1985 in the white working-class suburbs of Detroit and found that “these white Democratic defectors express a profound distaste for blacks, a sentiment that pervades almost everything they think about government and politics.”

The perception of reverse discrimination was an even more acute source of anger: “The special status of blacks is perceived by almost all these individuals as a serious obstacle to their personal advancement. Indeed, discrimination against whites has become a well-assimilated and ready explanation for their status, vulnerability and failures.”

A separate study that year, financed by the Democratic National Committee, found that white working-class voters were convinced that “the Democratic Party has not stood with them as they moved from the working to the middle class. They have a whole set of middle-class economic problems today, and their party is not helping them. Instead, it is helping the blacks, Hispanics and the poor. They feel betrayed.”

While these attitudes are stronger in the south, I fear that Democrats will continue to face serious obstacles to attracting white low-information voters in other regions. That does not mean I disagree with Democratic attempts to  try to pick up votes. There are white working class voters who are less conservative and less motivated by race than those in the south and some might be convinced to vote more along economic interests. Even if Democrats continue to win a minority of these voters, increasing their share could still add to Democratic margins.

This strategy has also begun to backfire against Republicans nationally. The realization that Republicans have based their electoral strategy to such a considerable degree on stroking racial fears has been one reason why they have been so unsuccessful in obtaining Jewish votes, and why Republican use of racial fears on immigration issues is hurting their long term prospects due to the loss of Latino voters.

Among other measures, Democrats have attempted to improve the economic conditions of millions of workers by pushing for an increase in the minimum wage. Now Obama has escalated this with an executive order which will provide overtime pay to millions of Americans who have been denied this:

President Obama this week will seek to force American businesses to pay more overtime to millions of workers, the latest move by his administration to confront corporations that have had soaring profits even as wages have stagnated.

On Thursday, the president will direct the Labor Department to revamp its regulations to require overtime pay for several million additional fast-food managers, loan officers, computer technicians and others whom many businesses currently classify as “executive or professional” employees to avoid paying them overtime, according to White House officials briefed on the announcement.

Mr. Obama’s decision to use his executive authority to change the nation’s overtime rules is likely to be seen as a challenge to Republicans in Congress, who have already blocked most of the president’s economic agenda and have said they intend to fight his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25…

Under the new rules that Mr. Obama is seeking, fewer salaried employees could be blocked from receiving overtime, a move that would potentially shift billions of dollars’ worth of corporate income into the pockets of workers. Currently, employers are prohibited from denying time-and-a-half overtime pay to any salaried worker who makes less than $455 per week. Mr. Obama’s directive would significantly increase that salary level.

In addition, Mr. Obama will try to change rules that allow employers to define which workers are exempt from receiving overtime based on the kind of work they perform. Under current rules, if an employer declares that an employee’s primary responsibility is executive, such as overseeing a cleanup crew, then that worker can be exempted from overtime.

White House officials said those rules were sometimes abused by employers in an attempt to avoid paying overtime. The new rules could require that employees perform a minimum percentage of “executive” work before they can be exempted from qualifying for overtime pay.

“Under current rules, it literally means that you can spend 95 percent of the time sweeping floors and stocking shelves, and if you’re responsible for supervising people 5 percent of the time, you can then be considered executive and be exempt,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research organization in Washington.

Conservatives are likely to protest the use of an executive order here, ignoring the fact that Obama is just reversing a previous executive order by George W. Bush in 2004. Think Progress has more on the economic effects of this executive order. Jared Bernstein, former executive director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, also predicts that “a potential side effect is that you may see more hiring in order to avoid overtime costs, which would be an awfully good thing right about now.”

The question remains whether low-information white working class voters will realize that they are benefiting from such policy differences between the parties or whether they will continue to fall for right wing talking points on the economy, and allow the Republicans to continue to scare them with the prospect of blacks and immigrants challenging them for jobs.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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More Information Comes Out On Republican Misinformation As Democrats Stand Up To Koch Brothers

The Affordable Care Act is bringing about considerable reductions in health care expenses for millions of Americans. Republicans opposing health care reform have tried to undermine support for the law with a series of false ads in which  they falsely claim people such as cancer patients have to pay more than in the past for health care coverage. Whenever these claims are actually examined, it has turned out that the claims are false. Considering the subsidies for coverage, the increased protections for those with medical problems, the elimination of limitations on coverage, and the caps on out of pocket expenses, it is generally not possible for anyone to really come out behind who had previously been purchasing coverage on the individual market. The only “losers” are those of us who don’t qualify for subsidies and are healthy enough to not have significant health care costs. Even the “losers” under the Affordable Care Act, who are affluent enough to pay the higher premiums for better coverage, will come out ahead if we develop major medical problems.

The case of Julie Boonstra was already covered when newspapers and fact checkers revealed that the ad, paid for by the Koch brothers, was spreading incorrect information. Previous reports revealed that her claims of paying more were untrue. As more information has become available on her policy, the facts show that she benefits even more than initially reported. The Detroit News has updated the facts on this case with this information:

A Dexter cancer patient featured in a conservative group’s TV ad campaign denouncing her new health care coverage as “unaffordable” will save more than $1,000 this year.

Julie Boonstra, 49, starred last month in an emotional television ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity that implied Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters’ vote for the Affordable Care Act made her medication so “unaffordable” she could die. Peters of Bloomfield Township is running for an open U.S. Senate seat against Republican Terri Lynn Land.

The Detroit News and fact checkers last month cast doubt on the accuracy of the TV ad. On Monday, Boonstra acknowledged which health plan she chose, offering the first evidence of cost savings..

Boonstra said Monday her new plan she dislikes is the Blue Cross Premier Gold health care plan, which caps patient responsibility for out-of-pocket costs at $5,100 a year, lower than the federal law’s maximum of $6,350 a year. It means the new plan will save her at least $1,200 compared with her former insurance plan she preferred that was ended under Obamacare’s coverage requirements.

Glenn Kessler reevaluated his report on this ad writing, “one cannot claim that a plan is ‘unaffordable’ when over the course of the year it will provide you with substantial savings. Thus we are changing the rating on this ad from Two Pinocchios to Three Pinocchios.”

Boonstra, and others claiming to be losers under Obamacare, might very well believe what they are saying, even if wrong:

When advised of the details of her Blues’ plan, Boonstra said the idea that it would be cheaper “can’t be true.”

“I personally do not believe that,” Boonstra said.

The Republicans are spending a tremendous amount of money spreading false misinformation about the Affordable Care Act, and an alarming number of people believe what they hear on Fox, right wing talk radio, and from other portions  of the right wing noise machine.  They have no idea that what they hear from right wing outlets is propaganda to promote a political agenda and is not actual news. Therefore we see pe0ple like Boonstra who are better off under the Affordable Care Act but do not look at the facts and do not believe this. Others have listened to “warnings” from the right wing and have not purchased coverage on the exchanges, and then complain about higher premiums because of not receiving the subsidies they would receive if they purchased coverage on the exchanges. Many have no idea that their old policies had limitations on how much would be covered while the new policies under the ACA have caps on what they would have to pay which usually greatly reduce what they will have to pay out of pocket compared to their previous policies.

Many people are harmed by the deliberate misinformation being spread by the right wing, including many who are now failing to sign up and take advantage of the benefits under the Affordable Care Act. Many of these dishonest ads are funded by the Koch brothers through Americans for Prosperity (a poorly named organization for one pursuing an agenda which would impoverish the middle class and turn the United States into a banana republic).

The New York Times has been reporting on how the Democrats are staring to stand up to the Koch brothers for their misinformation on health care and other actions to rig the system to benefit a small oligarchy. They summarized this in an op-ed today:

Democrats have for too long been passive in the face of the vast amounts of corporate money, most of it secret, that are being spent to evict them from office and dismantle their policies. By far the largest voice in many of this year’s political races, for example, has been that of the Koch brothers, who have spent tens of millions of dollars peddling phony stories about the impact of health care reform, all in order to put Republicans in control of the Senate after the November elections.

Now Democrats are starting to fight back, deciding they should at least try to counter the tycoons with some low-cost speech of their own. Democrats may never have the same resources at their disposal — no party should — but they can use their political pulpits to stand up for a few basic principles, including the importance of widespread health-insurance coverage, environmental protection and safety-net programs.

The leader of this effort has been Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, who has delivered a series of blistering attacks against the Kochs and their ads on the Senate floor over the last few weeks. In addition, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has set up a website, www.kochaddiction.com, to remind voters of just what the Kochs stand for, and why they raised $407 million in the 2012 election. And individual candidates are making sure voters know who is paying for the ad blitz.

“The billionaire Koch brothers,” says one of the people quoted in an ad released Monday by Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, who has been the object of one of their blatantly false television barrages. “They come into our town, fire a refinery, just running it into the ground, leaving a mess.” Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina reminds voters that the Kochs and their allies have pressed for high-end tax breaks that burden the middle class.

Mr. Reid’s comments have gone to the heart of the matter. In his most recent speech, he pointed out that the fundamental purpose of the Kochs’ spending is to rig the economic system for their benefit and for that of other oligarchs. They own an industrial network that ranks No. 14 on the list of the most toxic American air polluters, and got their money’s worth in 2010 by helping elect a Republican House majority that has resisted environmental regulation…

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Are Many Conservatives Really Liberals?

Liberal or conservative, opposite signs

Polls have generally showed self-identified conservatives outnumbering liberals, with a recent slight increase in the number of liberals. I have often speculated that this is largely due to the success the right wing noise machine has had in demonizing the word liberal. Americans come out more liberal than would be expected by these poll findings when we look at individual issues.

While the pendulum swings both ways, the trend has been toward more liberal policies over the years. Most people wouldn’t think of returning to the days of child labor. Medicare and Social Security are deeply entrenched, to the point that even when Republicans vote for ending Medicare as we know it they realize they have to hide what they are doing. Recent polls show increases in the number of people who support legalization of same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana. A majority even supports the individual components of Obamacare when asked without identifying the policy as Obamacare.

John Sides reviewed a recent book to argue that many conservatives are really liberals:

In Ideology in America, Christopher Ellis and James Stimson describe a striking disjuncture. When identifying themselves in a word, Americans choose “conservative” far more than “liberal.” In fact they have done so for 70 years, and increasingly so since the early 1960s.

But when it comes to saying what the government should actually do, the public appears more liberal than conservative. Ellis and Stimson gathered 7,000 survey questions dating back to 1956 that asked some variant of whether the government should do more, less, or the same in lots of different policy areas.  On average, liberal responses were more common than conservative responses. This has been true in nearly every year since 1956, even as the relative liberalism of the public has trended up and down.  For decades now there has been a consistent discrepancy between what Ellis and Stimson call symbolic ideology (how we label ourselves) and operational ideology (what we really think about the size of government).

Looked at this way, almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics.  Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics.  Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views.  The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.

This raises the question: why are so many people identifying as conservative while simultaneously preferring more government?  For some conservatives, it is because they associate the label with religion, culture or lifestyle.  In essence, when they identify as “conservative,” they are thinking about conservatism in terms of family structure, raising children, or interpreting the Bible. Conservatism is about their personal lives, not their politics.

But other self-identified conservatives, though, are conservative in terms of neither religion and culture nor the size of government.  These are the truly “conflicted conservatives,” say Ellis and Stimson, who locate their origins in a different factor: how conservatives and liberals have traditionally talked about politics.  Conservatives, they argue, talk about politics in terms of symbols and the general value of “conservatism” — and news coverage, they find, usually frames the label “conservative” in positive terms.  Liberals talk about policy in terms of the goals it will serve — a cleaner environment, a stronger safety net, and so on — which are also good things for many people.  As a result, some people internalize both messages and end up calling themselves conservative but having liberal views on policy.

Ideology has two faces: the labels people choose and the actual content of their beliefs.  For liberals, these are mostly aligned.  For conservatives, they are not.  American conservatism means different things to different people.  For many, what it doesn’t mean is less government.

This idea that nearly 30 percent of self-identified conservative are really liberals would explain the increased support for liberal positions despite a majority identifying themselves as conservatives.

There are some limitations to this, largely due to problems with these labels. It seems to use a simplistic definition of liberals as being for more government and conservatives being for less, but that does not really explain the differences. There are many areas where I am for less government. There is nowhere that I support more government for the sake of more government.

I supported the Affordable Care Act because financing of health care is an area where the market has failed, as insurance companies found it more profitable to find ways to collect increased premiums while finding ways to avoid paying out claims. Conservatives opposed the Affordable Care Act based upon greatly-exaggerated arguments that it is more government (ignoring its similarities to health plans previously advocated by conservatives). Republicans widely supported an individual mandate to buy health insurance until this became part of the plan supported by Barack Obama (who ran against Hillary Clinton opposing the individual mandate). Similarly, conservatives previously supported ideas comparable to the health care exchanges.

On the other hand, conservatives support more big government when it comes to military spending, mandatory vaginal probes, and other intrusions into the private lives of individuals. Even Ron Paul, who voted no on virtually any spending by the federal government, would allow for far greater government restrictions on individual liberties if it came from the state or local level.

Republicans in office generally perform different than their rhetoric would, with big increases in the size of government under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. This has been described as being “ideologically conservative, but operationally liberal.” If we just go by their effects on the size of government, Reagan and Bush were the liberals while Barack Obama has been the most conservative president since Dwight Eisenhower. Part of this is because Republican rhetoric is incompatible with actually governing, leading Reagan and Bush to promote far more government spending than would be expected by their rhetoric. Many conservatives realize they didn’t get what they wanted from Bush, but continue to buy the myth of Ronald Reagan as a supporter of small government.

Another problem is a concentration on economic issues and the size of government, as misleading as those issues can be in assigning labels. How would they classify someone who wants to ban abortion, limit access to contraception, opposes same-sex marriage, and supports everyone carrying a concealed weapon, but doesn’t follow the entire Republican line on economic policy? I bet a lot of self-identified conservatives would have no real opposition to a modest tax increase on the wealthy and increasing some government economic regulations (especially if they don’t affect them personally) while holding a number of other conservative positions.

Today many are self-identified conservatives based upon social issues. This didn’t always identify conservatism. Barry Goldwater was a strong opponent of the religious right. He sure called it right in 1994:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

Or maybe they just like being members of the club.  They like to listen to people like Glenn Beck and agree with what they say. However Beck has previously described himself as “a rodeo clown” and conceded, “If you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.”

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Support For Same Sex Marriage Increases (Except Among The Tea Party)

Support for legalization of same sex marriage has reached a new high according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll:

Half of all Americans believe that gay men and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll in which a large majority also said businesses should not be able to deny serving gays for religious reasons.

Fifty percent say the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection gives gays the right to marry, while 41 percent say it does not.

Beyond the constitutional questions, a record-high 59 percent say they support same-sex marriage, while 34 percent are opposed, the widest margin tracked in Post-ABC polling

According to the poll, public opinion is more unified on recent proposals that would allow businesses to refuse serving gays and others based on the religious convictions of the business owner. Nearly seven in 10 respondents say businesses should not be allowed to refuse service to gays. On this question, majorities across partisan lines said businesses should not be allowed to deny service.  Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a measure that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to customers based on religious grounds.

The breakdown of supporters includes little that is surprising:

Despite the changing views, deep chasms remain along religious, generational and political lines. Six in 10 evangelical Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, while about six in 10 Catholics, non-evangelical Protestants and eight in 10 with no religious affiliation support it. Three-quarters of Americans younger than 30 support same-sex marriage, while less than half of seniors say the same.

Although support for such unions has grown to clear majorities among Democrats (70 percent) and independents (61 percent), Republicans have moved at a slower pace. Fifty-four percent of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage in the new poll, while 40 percent approve of it.

“I just don’t believe in the marriage thing; the Bible says that isn’t right,” said Musser, who opposed the Arizona legislation on the religious rights of businesses.

Republicans are split along ideological and religious lines. Support for allowing same-sex marriage is lowest, below one-third or less, among conservatives and evangelical Protestants.

Greg Sargent has this comment on where much of the this Republican support for government intrusion in the private lives of individuals comes from:

Meanwhile, opposition to gay marriage among Republicans seems to be concentrated among the Tea Party. According to the Post polling team, Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who support the Tea Party oppose gay marriage by 54-38. By contrast, non-Tea Party Republicans and GOP-leaners support gay marriage by 57-36. Tea Party Republicans are often said to be more libertarian-leaning on social issues than other segments of the GOP base (such as evangelicals), but a majority of them still opposes same-sex marriage.

While the Tea Party often claims to be purely concentrated on economic matters,  as I have pointed out in the past, the Tea Party is often just a new name for the old religious right base of the Republican Party.

On the other hand, opposition to same sex marriage is declining among Catholics. A comparable change is also seen with the more liberal views coming from the Vatican under Pope Francis. While outright support for same sex marriage remains too liberal a position for him to adopt, Think Progress points out that he is open to the idea of civil unions:

In an interview published Wednesday, Pope Francis appeared to support governments that recognize civil unions to provide non-traditional couples with access to benefits:

On the question of marriage and civil unions, the Pope reaffirmed that “marriage is between a man and a woman”. States seek to justify civil unions “to regularize different situations of living together,” pushed by the need to regularize the economic aspects between people, such as, for example, to ensure health care, he said. “We have to look at the different cases and evaluate them in their variety”.

Over the last year, Francis has nudged the church in a more welcoming direction on issues like contraception, divorce, and marriage equality. Unlike Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI — who sermonized that same-sex marriage is a “serious harm to justice and peace,” and a “manipulation of nature” — Francis has directed the church to become more inclusive. He has also instructed American Bishops to poll how everyday Catholics view same-sex marriage, divorce, and contraception. Last year, Francis himself welcomed gays priests, arguing, “who am I to judge?” Before becoming the Pope, Francis may have supported civil unions as an Argentina archbishop, though he was simultaneously condemning marriage equality as a product of the “father of lies” that was “destructive to the plan of God” and that would “gravely harm the family.” The Vatican continues to oppose same-sex unions and has had to deny past reports of Francis’ support as “paradoxical” and a “manipulation” of his words.

Francis also discussed plans to revisit the church’s position on birth control, saying “it is a matter of going into the issue in depth and bringing it about that the pastoral practice takes account of situations and of what is possible for persons.”

While this country is quickly moving beyond the idea of civil unions to full marriage equality, support for civil unions is a welcome move in the right direction from the Catholic Church.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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