The Social Security Act of 1935 was challenged in both court and at the ballot box. Even after FDR defeated Alf Landon (who had campaigned against the program) and the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of old-age insurance, Social Security struggled to gain legitimacy. The conservative resistance to Social Security persisted until President Dwight Eisenhower signaled his acceptance of the program.ACA is likely to remain a flashpoint for years to come, and a vow to repeal (and maybe replace) it will likely be a mandatory gesture for would-be Republican nominees for some time. But will the decision have much of an effect on this year's election?
Along with Brendan Nyhan, Eric McGhee, John Sides, and Steve Greene, I did a study looking at the effect of the ACA vote on Democratic House members who ran for reelection in 2010. (Explanatory blog post here.) We found that Democratic House members who supported ACA ran 5-6 points behind those who opposed it, and that this difference may have been enough to cost Democrats control of the House in 2010.
But would this affect the presidential election? My guess is no, at least not much. Obama ran on a very public platform promising to reform health care, and unlike with members of Congress, voters don't need cues like the ACA vote to tell them just how liberal or centrist President Obama is. They have plenty of information to evaluate that already.
Yesterday's decision surely provides a temporary shot in the arm to Democratic activists. At least, it would have been very dispiriting for them if the legislative goal to which they devoted so much energy in 2009-2010 had been thrown out, and that did not happen. Instead, their labors were validated.
But in the end, sentiments about health reform are already baked into people's assessments of the candidates. People know that Obama supports it and that Romney (for all his history) opposes it, and nothing that happened yesterday changes that. Perhaps Roberts' conservative apostasy may cause a few people to reassess ACA (although see here), but my guess is that it mainly causes people to reassess Roberts.