We examine the contours of support for the Clinton and Obama health care plans during the 1990s and 2000s based on our own compilation of 120,000 individual-level survey responses from throughout the debates. Despite the rise of the Tea Party, and the racialization of health care politics, opinion dynamics are remarkably similar in both periods. Party ID is the single most powerful predictor of support for reform and the president's handling of it. Contrary to prominent claims, after controlling for partisanship, demographic characteristics are at best weak predictors of support for reform. We also show that Clinton and Obama did not “lose” blacks, seniors, or wealthy voters over the course of the debate. The small and often nonexistent relationship between these characteristics and support for the plan are constant over time. Instead, the modest fluctuations in support for reform appear to follow the ebb and flow of elite rhetoric. Both mean levels of support and its volatility over time covary with elite partisan discourse. These findings suggest that presidents courting public opinion should seek consensus among their own party's elites before appealing to other narrower interests.

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