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Since The Election, Americans Grow More Supportive Of Obamacare


In the last couple of months, something has changed about the way Americans feel about Obamacare. Since the election, its popularity is growing. That's a big change in public opinion, and NPR political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben thinks she knows why. She's with us in the studio. Hey, there.


MCEVERS: So tell us first about the polling on Obamacare.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. So you have several polls recently - one from NBC, one from CNN. And they found that for the first time since Obamacare was passed, it is seen more favorably than not. And what's interesting is this seems to mean that even people who weren't all that crazy about Obamacare are now fighting against its repeal. Several commentators have pointed this out. And as I wrote in an article this week, one possible reason for this is the idea of relative deprivation.

MCEVERS: What is that?

KURTZLEBEN: So it's the sense that I'm entitled to something and that I perceive that I can't get it. Now, the idea here is that this is what inspires a lot of political revolts. There was a political scientist named Ted Robert Gurr who, in the 1970s, wrote a whole book about this. Now, the key word here is relative. This isn't just about deprivation, period. That is, I'm not necessarily going to go protest if I don't have health insurance, but I will if I think I should rightfully have it and that I can't get it. For example, in the fight over health care, you've you heard a lot of Obamacare advocates, for example, say health care is a fundamental human right. Now, to the degree that that raised people's expectations for what they should get from the government, that may be inspiring people to go out and protest right now.

MCEVERS: And so when you wrote about this, you pointed to the Women's March as an example. I mean, you heard a lot of people say they had a fear of losing something, like losing access to abortion.


MCEVERS: But there were men there, too, right? Is that because they were supporters?

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, right. And it's totally true. You know, you had men at these women's marches. You have a lot of people, for example, who probably won't be directly affected by the administration's executive order on immigration who are out protesting that, as well. But once again, there's a gap here between what protesters think they should have and what they are able to have. And you heard this in some of these protests where you had left-leaning protesters yelling at Democratic leaders. There's a sense there that I picked up on of we should be more powerful than this. That is, they, until recently, had something - aka the presidency - and now they've lost it. Likewise, there was this election that many had hoped and even thought they would win, and then they didn't.

MCEVERS: Right. So you're seeing all this energy on the left. But you write that this idea of relative deprivation can also help explain some of the energy on the right, yeah?

KURTZLEBEN: It's really striking how much Donald Trump used this in his campaign. And I would argue that this is what made him such an effective campaigner - his whole make America great again idea. He told people there's some sort of greatness they once had, they don't have it now and that he can get it back for them.

MCEVERS: And as you put it, relative deprivation is basically about two things - I mean, expectations and whether or not they can be met. So what happens if expectations are not met?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, we're about to see. I mean, after all, right now Trump is delivering on a lot of these campaign promises - these expectations he set up. He's signing all of these executive orders, but repealing and replacing Obamacare is a big test. Now, after all, relatively recently, he raised expectations on that. He said he would make sure there was, quote, "insurance for everybody." And then he and other Republicans kind of walked that back. So what happens now is all about that gap between the expectations they set and what reality will be. So they will have to deliver or, to some degree, bring expectations down, perhaps. Otherwise, they could face some really angry voters in the future.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. Thank you so much.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL SONG, "WHAT WE NEED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.