It’s encouraging that something positive can come from something so unrelentingly negative.
Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, its opponents have spent an estimated $450 million on political ads attacking the law, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, which analyzes spending on advertising. Supporters have spent a tiny fraction of that amount. Kantar says opponents have outspent those who favor the law by 15 to 1.
While those attack ads likely cost some Democratic members of Congress their jobs in 2012, a new report indicates that, crazy as it sounds, those ads may have contributed to the success of the health care legislation this year.
The Obama administration had hoped that at least seven million Americans would sign up for coverage on the federal and state health insurance exchanges during the six-and-a half-month enrollment period that ended in April.
Because of the difficulty most people had with the exchanges’ websites last fall, that goal seemed unattainable. But as those problems were resolved, the enrollment numbers rose steadily. By mid-April, more than eight million people had signed up.
Last week, a researcher at the Brookings Institution released a report suggesting that all those negative ads actually helped the Obama administration blow past its enrollment projections.
After analyzing the negative spending and ACA enrollment on a state-by-state basis, Brookings Center for Technology Innovation Fellow Niam Yaraghi found a striking, counterintuitive correlation: there has been a positive association between anti-ACA spending and ACA enrollment in many states. It turns out that the more negative ads people were exposed to, the more likely they were to enroll in a health plan.
It seems that P.T. Barnum’s maxim — “I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right” — is at work here.
After controlling for state characteristics such as low per-capita income population and average insurance premiums, Yaraghi said he found a positive association between the anti-ACA spending and the ACA enrollment.
“This implies that anti-ACA ads may unintentionally increase the public awareness about the existence of government-subsidized service and its benefits for the uninsured,” Yaraghi wrote in his report, “Have the Anti-Obamacare Ads Backfired?”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the four states with the highest per capita spending on anti-Obamacare ads so far are Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, where hotly contested Senate races are underway. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is hoping to hold on to his seat while Democrats Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina are facing serious re-election threats.