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Will Obamacare Ruling Swing Public Opinion? History Says It May.

If Roe v. Wade is indicative, a high-profile Supreme Court decision can influence the public’s view of a controversial issue.
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Democrats and Republicans are furiously trying to rally public opinion to their respective sides, following the Supreme Court ruling that largely upheld the Affordable Care Act as constitutional. The intense political maneuvering raises a key question: Does this sort of definitive legal decision influence voters’ views on the issue at hand?

One very high-profile example—the January 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which effectively legalized abortion—suggests the answer is yes. At least, that’s the conclusion of a recently published study, which finds the court’s action appears to have “boosted public support for abortion, at least in the short term.”

“The results of our exercise indicate that the Court is able to sweep opinion on its side, even in highly controversial areas it is deciding on for the first time,” a research team led by political scientist John Hanley of the University of California, Berkeley writes in the Political Research Quarterly.

Analyzing public opinion data from the era, Hanley and his colleagues report that “among those who had heard of the decision, we see that support for abortion increased in nearly every one of the demographic groups studied” between 1972 and 1973.

They add that “for all groups considered except infrequent church attenders” (who presumably were more pro-choice to begin with), “the effect of the decision appears to have been higher levels of permissiveness toward abortion.”

The researchers add that “Whether this short-run effect can be maintained is another question altogether,” noting that the Roe v. Wade decision “did catalyze an organized response among activists that produced sharp conflict over abortion rights in the late 1970s, and up to the present day.”

So the health-care decision won’t end the debate. But it may boost support for the plan over the coming months, which gives the Obama re-election campaign another reason to feel good about the result.