Finding the Terminology that Works in Communications: Obamacare vs. Affordable Care Act

The debate over Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act is heating up again in the United States.  Some legislators in Washington want to defund the program while President Obama is on a campaign to increase support for the legislation that was passed almost two years ago.

Today, CNBC released the results of a survey which shows that Americans are quite divided when it comes to defunding Obama’s landmark health care reform.  Forty-four percent of those they surveyed oppose defunding Obamacare while 38% support it.

But the same survey also conducted an experiment using different titles of the healthcare law – comparing how Americans respond to “Obamacare” and “Affordable Care Act.”

The survey asked a random half of the sample “What are your feelings toward Obamacare? Do you feel very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, very negative, or do you not know enough to say?” while asking the other half “What are your feelings toward the Affordable Care Act? Do you feel very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, very negative, or do you not know enough to say?”

When “Obamacare” is used in the survey, 29% of respondents said they have a positive impression compared to 46% who have a negative impression.  When “Affordable Care Act” is used, the percentage of respondents with a positive impression drops to 22%, a seven-point difference while the number of unsure respondents increases to 30%.

This demonstrates the importance of using words that work with your audience.  Research can help identify terms and phrases that resonate better with a target audience.  In the case of the Affordable Care Act in the United States, proponents of the act should refer to its a Obamacare since the public responds more positively to it.

These results explain why President Obama himself often refers to the legislation as Obamacare and started using the term extensively during the 2012 Presidential election.  He knew, from research, that it gets a better response than talking more broadly about health care reform or using the technical “Affordable Care Act.”

On the other hand, Obamacare also increases the negatives associated with the policy indicating that its a signal to both supporters and opponents of the president.

Good research can help you uncover the words that works and the words that don’t when designing a public affairs or public relations campaign.

David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data and leads its Public Affairs research practice. He has a PhD from the University of Calgary and is an adjunct professor at Carleton University.  He’s an avid road cyclist.

Contact David Coletto:

T: 613-232-2806 x. 248



Sean on Twitter David on LinkedIn David on Google Plus