Despite sharp divisions over the long-term impact of President Obama's health-reform law, fewer than two in five Americans say it should be repealed, virtually unchanged since last summer, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll has found.
Amid all the tumult over the law's troubled implementation, the survey found that public opinion about it largely follows familiar political tracks and has changed remarkably little since the summer on the critical question of what Congress should do next. On that measure, support for repeal has not significantly increased among any major group except Republicans and working-class whites since the Congressional Connection Poll last tested opinion on the question in July.
While the survey found a slim majority believes the law will do more to hurt than help the nation's health care system over time, it also found the statute retains majority support among key elements of the modern Democratic coalition, including minorities, college-educated white women, and young people. That means Congressional Democrats inclined to distance themselves from the law in the hope of placating skeptical independent or Republican-leaning voters face the risk of alienating some of their core supporters.
Conversely, the overwhelming opposition to the law within the GOP coalition—with nearly nine in 10 self-identified Republicans calling the law "fundamentally flawed" and nearly three-fourths of them supporting its repeal—ensures that Republican legislators will continue to face grassroots pressure to roll it back, by any means available.
On the broadest question of the law's ultimate impact, the survey found adults tilting narrowly toward skepticism. The survey asked respondents, considering "everything happening with the implementation of the federal health care law" to choose between two statements about its eventual effect. A slim 52 percent majority agreed with the negative assessment: "The law is fundamentally flawed and will do more to hurt the nation's health care system than improve it." Another 46 percent endorsed the more positive sentiment: "The law is experiencing temporary problems and will ultimately produce a better health care system for the country."
Opinions on this fundamental choice divided the country in patterns recognizable from the last several elections. Most dramatically, almost exactly three-fifths of whites (59 percent) described the law as fundamentally flawed, while just over three-fifths of minorities (62 percent) said it will ultimately improve the health care system.
Opinions from other core elements of each party's base lined up predictably, as well. Opposition spiked among the cornerstones of the GOP coalition: the share who described the law as fundamentally flawed reached 65 percent of whites without a college education (including 70 percent of such noncollege-educated white men); 64 percent among rural residents; 58 percent among whites older than 50; and 54 percent among respondents from the South.
By contrast, the groups central to the Democratic electoral coalition, generally remained supportive of the law, although by narrower margins. Along with the roughly three-fifths of minorities, 52 percent of adults younger than 30, and 55 percent of college-educated white women say the law will ultimately improve the health care system. College-educated white men are often a difficult group for Democrats, but a thin 51 percent majority of them also said the law will ultimately produce improvements.
Though in most respects following familiar lines, these results do contain some clear warning signs for Democrats. One is that the support level for the law among minorities has dipped well below the four-fifths of their votes Obama attracted in 2012. Another is that the law faces skepticism from independents, with 55 percent saying it is fundamentally flawed and only 42 percent maintaining that it will eventually improve the health care system. Just 36 percent of white independents expect the law to generate net benefits; 61 percent said they consider it fundamentally flawed.
Yet the survey did not find these doubts about the law translating into surging demand to undo it. Reprising a question first asked in July, the survey recorded a close split when respondents were asked to choose among three options for what Congress "should do now about the health care law."
Thirty-eight percent of those polled said Congress should "repeal the law so it is not implemented at all," while 35 percent said lawmakers should "wait and see how things go before making any changes." Another 23 percent said Congress should "provide more money to ensure it is implemented effectively" (the remaining 5 percent had no opinion).
Notwithstanding all the tumult surrounding the law's rocky implementation, those numbers changed little from July, when 36 percent supported repeal, 30 percent wanted Congress to wait and see, and 27 percent wanted lawmakers to provide more funds for implementation.
Just like the question of the law's ultimate impact, this choice divided the country along familiar lines. What's more, the new results showed striking stability since last July for almost all major subgroups.
Since last July's poll, support for repeal has oscillated only slightly (or not at all) for self-identified Democrats (9 percent now, unchanged since July) and independents (40 percent now compared with 41 percent then); whites (48 percent versus 44 percent) and nonwhites (unchanged at 16 percent); young adults under 30 (unchanged at 26 percent) and seniors (42 percent now versus 40 percent then). The survey recorded a somewhat bigger shift toward repeal among whites without a college degree (up to 53 percent from 46 percent last summer) and self-identified Republicans (74 percent now, from 65 percent last summer). But whites with at least a four-year college degree remained essentially unchanged, with 36 percent now backing repeal, compared with 39 percent in July.
Indeed, like the question over the law's eventual impact, this measure found clear signs of doubt among the key elements of the modern Democratic coalition, but no indication that they are rushing to abandon health reform: Repeal drew support from just one-sixth of minorities, one-fourth of millennials, and one-third of college-educated white women, the groups on which Democrats now rely most.
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, 2013. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
This article appears in the November 19, 2013 edition of NJ Daily as Poll: Most Americans Oppose Obamacare Repeal.