There are a lot of interesting findings in the new Pew poll about the Affordable Care Act, released Sunday, but the most reliable and stark one: Americans really don’t like the law. They disapprove of it by an eleven-point margin — the biggest since Pew started asking about it.
More Americans already say the law has affected them negatively than positively — 20 percent to 17 — and even more believe the law has already hurt the country, 38 percent thinking it’s had a “mostly negative” effect to 24 percent thinking it’s “mostly positive.” Plenty of people say there hasn’t been too much of an effect so far, but asked to predict the long-term effects of the law, even more people are pessimistic, with a full 47 percent thinking it will have a mostly negative effect on the country as a whole.
And surely in part thanks to the consistent, growing unpopularity of the law itself, for the first time in years (the question has varied slightly), Pew found that people trust the Republican party over the Democratic party on health care, 40 percent to 39 (this could be a bit of an outlier, but the trend is slowly in the GOP’s direction). It’s important not to make too much of one poll, but if this holds up, it’s a big deal, though both delay-reform-replace and defund-Obamacare Republicans will surely argue that their strategy is what’s engendered this improvement.
Among the 53 percent of Americans who disapprove of the law, more than half (27 percentage points) believe Congress “should make it work as well as possible,” while a somewhat smaller number (23 percent) believe they should “do what they can to make it fail.” Negatively worded answers are almost inevitably less popular than positive ones, but this doesn’t seem unfairly worded — and it’s among the people who disapprove of the law. The more moderate margins of the 53 percent of Americans who oppose Obamacare seem like they would be a key voting bloc for Republicans in 2014 and 2016 — and they don’t seem to like the idea of sabotage. What they might like, however, is a careful strategy of delaying the more problematic aspects of the law when provided with an explanation for why they’re not quite ready to be rolled out. That said, tea-party-identified Republicans believe Congress should do all it can to make the law fail, 64 percent to 24 (non-tea-party aligned Republicans favor the “make it work as well as possible” strategy by a wide margin).
USA Today bizarrely opened its story on the poll by writing, “Republican lawmakers have failed in dozens of attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but a new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll shows just how difficult they have made it for President Obama’s signature legislative achievement to succeed” — suggesting that the poll indicates most people still don’t understand the law, publicity efforts have totally failed, and implementation will be tougher because of it.
That’s not clear from the data: 69 percent of Americans are aware that the law requires uninsured people to buy health insurance, which seems like a fairly impressive share of Americans accurately informed about any one thing. That number drops to 56 percent among the young, but again, that doesn’t seem deplorable — and seems like a number that would only have been reached with plenty of Democratic publicity about the law. The number of Americans aware that there will be an exchange operating in their state and that tax subsidies will be available is lower than the share of people who know about the individual mandate, but this doesn’t seem like that big a deal: If people know they have to buy health insurance and would like to, they’re going to find the exchanges whether they understand that’s part of Obamacare or not (or the navigators will find them), and they’ll be shown prices that reflect the subsidies they can get, whether they understand that the law’s offering them tax credits or not. The law’s advocates are not necessarily doing too badly at getting across the key point, then, that people should sign up for health insurance (those difficult Republicans notwithstanding).