More Americans continue to say that President Obama's health care law will help the poor and the uninsured rather than their own families or the country overall, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll has found.
Combined with the survey results released Monday, these attitudes capture the tenuous political situation facing Obama and the law's Democratic supporters: While the earlier results found that only about two-fifths of Americans want to repeal Obamacare, these findings show that most adults, particularly whites, view it largely as a transfer program that will mostly benefit the poor rather than the nation broadly.
Still, like the results released Monday showing no meaningful uptick in support for repeal, these findings point more toward durability than change in assessments of the law since July despite its stormy, and at times chaotic, rollout. The law's public standing remains only equivocal, the poll found, but it also remains largely stable—not only with the country overall, but among most of the key subgroups. And given everything that's happened lately, that trend may represent the best the beleaguered White House can hope for now.
The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,013 adults by landline and cell phone from Nov. 14-17. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
Amid all of the turmoil surrounding the law, solid majorities of Americans continue to say they believe it will "make things better" for people who do not have health insurance (63 percent) and the poor (59 percent). Only about one-third thought the law would "make things … worse" for each group. In each case, that's a slight improvement in the overall judgment since the July poll. Back then, 58 percent thought the law would help the uninsured and 55 percent believed it would benefit the poor.
These results reflect a broad consensus. In the new survey, solid majorities of Democrats, independents, nonwhites, and both college-educated and noncollege whites say the law will help the uninsured; majorities of each of those groups except whites without college degrees also say it will help the poor (and even a 49 percent plurality of those noncollege whites agree). Republicans were more dubious, but even so, 47 percent thought the law would help the uninsured and 42 percent believed it would benefit the poor.
These results are a mixed blessing for the law's supporters, though, because the poll also finds that most Americans, especially whites, are much more dubious that the law will benefit broader groups in the country, or their own families. That confounds the anticipation of Democratic strategists who have hoped for decades that health care reform could reverse the skepticism among many voters, particularly middle-class whites, that Washington can deliver tangible benefits in their own lives.
Relatively few voters, especially whites, are anticipating such benefits from the health care law, the poll found. Overall, just 33 percent said they expected the law will make things better for "people like you and your family," while 49 percent said they thought it would make things worse. That was little changed since July (when those polled split 35 percent positive to 46 percent negative). But the results continued the decline since September 2012, just before Obama's reelection, when a narrow 43 percent to 40 percent plurality expected the law to improve their personal health care.
The latest result continued the stark racial split on this critical question. Minorities, by a 51 percent to 30 percent margin, thought the law was more likely to make things better than worse for their families. That represented a small deterioration (within the margin of error) for Obama since July, but maintained a huge gulf in attitudes compared with whites. Just 25 percent of whites said they believed the law would improve conditions for their family; nearly three-fifths of whites (58 percent) thought it would make things worse for them. (That also represented only a small deterioration, also within the margin of error, since July.) Only about one-fifth of whites without a college degree, a group consistently tough on Obama, thought the law would make things better for them; but so did only about one-third of college-educated whites, a constituency usually more open to him.
Indeed, Obama faces skepticism about the law's personal impact from two groups central to his coalition. While Monday's poll results found little support for repealing the health care law among millennials and college-educated white women, just under half of respondents in each group thought the law would make things worse, rather than better, for their own families. Only 31 percent of the well-educated white women, and 37 percent of young adults under 30, thought the law would make things better for them.
The survey also produced adverse judgments on what the law will mean for other groups. Just 39 percent said the law will benefit the middle class, while 53 percent said it would harm it. That was also down significantly since September 2012, but essentially unchanged since last July when respondents split 36 percent positive to 49 percent negative.
Likewise in the new poll, 40 percent said Obamacare would make things better for seniors, while 45 percent thought it would make things worse. Again that was virtually unchanged since July, but also a fall since September 2012. Both in July and in the new poll, the share of whites over 50 who said the law would make things worse for seniors was about double the portion that expected improvements.
Familiar political divides resurfaced over the law's impact on the nation as a whole. Only 42 percent said it would make things better for "the country overall," while 51 percent said it would make things worse. This measure too declined from September 2012 to July, but hasn't changed much since.
On this question, Obama continues to face enormous skepticism from groups traditionally critical of him (about two-thirds of noncollege whites, just over three-fifths of rural residents, and nearly three-fifths of whites above 50 thought it would make things worse for the country). But, compared with the question about the law's personal impact, the president rallied more support from groups favorable to him, with nearly three-fifths of minorities and almost exactly half of college whites saying the law would do more to make things better than worse for the country overall. (Only about two-fifths of millennials, though, agreed.)
On both sides of that divide, the results showed little change since last July. All of that adds to the sense from this week's poll that the health care law continues to face powerful doubts, but isn't yet facing the collapse of its public support (particularly within the Democratic coalition) or a cresting of opposition that could ignite a legislative stampede toward repeal.
This article appears in the November 20, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.