Taking a moment to look at the political implications from today’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act I think the best that can be said is that President Obama didn’t lose. The Court did, for the most part, rule in his favor. He has bragging rights, and importantly, it doesn’t mean Obama completely wasted most of his first term on something with nothing to show for it. That said, simply not suffering a big loss is not the same as scoring an actual political win.
I think it is unlikely this favorable ruling is going to change many voters’ minds about “Obamacare.” For the past two years public opinion towards the law has remained remarkably constant, with the law unpopular. I don’t see how anything short of full implementation of the law in 2014 will really move popular opinion one way or the other.
Even though today’s ruling is technically good news for Obama, it still guaranteed that the ACA dominated several political news cycles. Given the law’s unpopularity I imagine the Obama campaign would have preferred if everyone were talking about something else this close to the election. This favorable ruling still means that for two weeks everyone was constantly reminded that Obama included the extremely unpopular individual mandate in his signature law. A multiple-week discussion about one of your least popular decisions is hardly a net plus for any campaign.
While it is true this ruling now means the only way to get rid of Obamacare is to elect Mitt Romney, which might marginally help rally the GOP base, if you strongly opposed the law you were probably going to vote for Romney regardless what the Court did. The law has already been factored into most voters’ decision. When it is all said and done, today’s ruling basically just leaves the status quo mostly unchanged both on a political and policy front. Today Obama narrowly evaded a political loss, but simply not losing doesn’t mean he has gained much politically either.