A Health Care Decision Is Imminent: Nobody Has a Clue How It'll Play

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With the Supreme Court's ruling on Obamacare expected anytime now, the Washington press wants to prepare you for how the ruling will affect the presidential election. The problem is: the press has no idea how the Supreme Court's ruling will affect the presidential election. And that's because of a range of unknown variables, chief among them: The ruling hasn't happened yet (there are multiple potential outcomes such as whether the entire bill will be struck down, just the individual mandate or nothing at all); reporters can't read the minds of voters (much less the future minds of voters); and nobody knows how deftly the Romney or Obama campaigns will respond to the ruling. Nevertheless, news outlets are prepared to gaze report into the future and tell you just how this will affect the election, and it's no wonder that they're coming up with wildly different conclusions. 

Today Politico suggests that Mitt Romney is destined to lose politically if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare because "Romney will lose a rallying point for the movement conservatives he has been struggling to inspire." Reporter John Allen says it's easy to see why striking down the bill will be bad for Romney because of how many people oppose the bill. "A CBS/New York Times poll released Thursday found that more than two-thirds of respondents believe it should be struck down in whole or in part," he writes, "It would also give Romney ... a much clearer contrast with Obama on health care. Obama wrote the Affordable Care Act; Romney is campaigning to repeal it."

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That reasonably-argued article was followed by another reasonably-argued article in the Associated Press today with the opposite conclusion: Repealing Obamacare will be damaging for Obama's re-election. "If the Affordable Care Act is ruled unconstitutional, Obama's key legislative achievement will be for naught, and his reelection chances may be compromised," writes Steve Hurst. How can this be? According to Hurst, it's because the high court's ruling will vindicate Romney's position vis-a-vis Obama. "Republicans, including presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, would get a significant political boost should the conservative-dominated high court find all or part of the health care law unconstitutional."

While both arguments are reasonable, the mutually exclusive outcomes get to the heart of what these stories are really about: "The meta take" i.e., how do we think voters will respond to a Supreme Court decision on health care? Of course, anyone is free to guess, but given that it involves predicting the future opinions of millions of Americans, you can be sure it's just that: A guess.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.