Drawing the line on Obamacare

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There's debate now not just over Obamacare, but on how much to even talk about it in the first place.

For instance, Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., cautions Republicans not to make it the only item in their campaigns. The Democrats are looking to shift the topic to wages and the economy. But Obamacare continues to be a hinge point of 2014 whether they like it or not, and here's how:

When voters make choices some things are "nice-to-have" and some things are "must-have," which usually means a candidate has to agree on some items before you'll even consider them. The latest CBS News/New York Times poll shows how Obamacare remains one of those keys - for its opponents, it's really the key - which on balance could turn into an edge for Republicans.

When asked about the Affordable Care Act, most people they'd like to keep the law in place, albeit with changes. Less than half would repeal the whole thing. Advantage, Democrats? Not so fast. The repeal side looks more firm in their opposition than proponents are in their support.

We also asked voters if they could ever back a candidate who took a different side on Obamacare from them. In the chart below, which surveys the whole electorate, 35% are both opposed to the ACA and draw the line on it: they won't consider any candidate they see as supporting it, period. Opposition is a litmus test. And only a meager 8% want repeal but could back an Obamacare supporter, anyway.

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Meanwhile proponents of the law show more willingness to overlook a candidate's stance. In the green part on the chart, 29 percent of voters want to keep it and won't back anyone who advocates its repeal; this is the rock-solid, pro-ACA vote. (And notice it's a little smaller than its opposition counterpart.)

But nearly as many, 21 percent, do want to keep Obamacare but say they could be flexible about their candidate's stance anyway. This latter, more flexible group makes up a much more sizable block of the "keep it" side than do flexible voters on the "repeal" side.

Let's be careful: that doesn't mean they're opposed to the law or could change their minds on the law; we don't have evidence of that. It means that this isn't the same kind of motivator for them as opposition is for opponents.

For practical purposes, this could wall off more of the electorate for Democrats, who generally support the law but with changes, or potentially - emphasis here: potentially - make it easier for repeal-minded candidates to draw some Obamacare supporters by stressing other issues instead.

Much of the law's opposition is Republican, of course, and Democrats wouldn't have gotten those voters anyway, but these ratios are about the same among independents as among all. So if there are simply fewer independents out there to sway for proponents of the ACA, that only puts more pressure on Democrats to turn out their base, or else they're faced with a choice: they might try to make other issues more central or else try to make it as much of a make-or-break test for those in favor as for opponents.

  • Anthony Salvanto On Twitter»

    Anthony Salvanto is CBS News elections director

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