Even though President Obama fought for passage of the landmark 2010 health care law, very small minorities say their attitudes about him would change one way or the other should the Supreme Court strike down the law that is so often referred to as “Obamacare.”
Two-thirds of those surveyed in a new public-opinion poll said that their respect for Obama would be unchanged if the Supreme Court struck down his signature legislative achievement. Fourteen percent said they would respect Obama more under such a scenario, while 15 percent said they would respect him less.
That trend was consistent across the political spectrum—similar proportions of Republicans, Democrats, and independents said they would be unmoved, despite the pundits’ speculation that a Court decision declaring the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional in part or in its entirety might alter public opinion toward the president. The nonplussed attitude also held across nearly all age, income, regional, and racial categories, with at least 60 percent of each surveyed group saying that the ruling would have no impact on their view of the president.
The results appear in the latest edition of the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
When it comes to Congress and the courts, however, such a ruling could shift public opinion, the survey suggests. More than half of those surveyed said that the decision would influence their view of the Supreme Court one way or another, with 22 percent saying a decision overturning the law would increase their respect for the Court and 29 saying it would cause their respect to decrease. Forty-four percent said their view of Congress would change, with 31 percent of those surveyed saying it would cause them to respect the legislative branch less. (Although Americans’ approval of Congress is already at rock bottom, it apparently could go lower.)
It’s always hard to know whether peoples’ predictions of how an event will influence their thinking will hold up after the fact, but the data suggest that, despite the conventional wisdom that a ruling overturning the health care law would be a serious blow to Obama’s reelection chances, a Supreme Court decision might not shake up the presidential race.
The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,012 adults by landline and cell phone from May 31 to June 3. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. It is the latest in a series of national surveys on the public’s priorities for Congress and Washington writ large, conducted during most weeks Congress is in session this year.
The poll finds that many Americans—a full 74 percent of those surveyed—favor overturning portions of the existing health care reform law, particularly the individual mandate at the heart of the Supreme Court challenge. The mandate requires individuals to obtain health insurance or pay a fine.
Still, a large plurality of those surveyed still support a comprehensive approach to health care reform even if they oppose the linchpin for achieving universal coverage. Overall, 46 percent said that if the Court struck down the Affordable Care Act, they would want Congress to “try to come up with another law to guarantee insurance for nearly all Americans.”
But, notably, that 46 percent is not uniform across all demographic groups. Sixty-five percent of Democrats polled said they would support a goal of near-universal coverage, while only 25 percent disagreed with that statement. Fifty percent of Republicans said they would want Congress to “do away with the entire law, including any parts the Supreme Court may decide to uphold.”
There was also a fault line along age. Among those polled who are older than 65—and therefore eligible for Medicare—support for comprehensive health care reform was weak, with only 34 percent in favor. More than half of those under 50 years old, 51 percent, would support such a replacement.
Republicans in Congress have said they favor repealing the law but that once it is removed, they plan to replace it with more-modest provisions aimed at increasing coverage and lowering the cost of insurance policies through market forces.
Despite their incessant criticism of the law championed by the Obama administration, some Republican members have also begun murmuring about reinstating some popular consumer-friendly provisions should the law be struck down, including a rule that insurers must allow young adults to remain on their parents’ policies. The poll found the smallest proportions of those surveyed, 18 percent, would want this sort of halfway solution, with Congress passing smaller measures to improve coverage somewhat.
The large split found in the Congressional Connection Poll between Republicans and Democrats on what should come after a Supreme Court ruling is consistent with data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been tracking attitudes toward the health care law every month since it passed in 2010.
Kaiser’s nonpartisan polling has consistently shown that while the country has remained divided about 40-40 on its overall approval of the health care law, the cleavages can be traced to party lines: Democrats support the law by large margins, while Republicans strongly oppose it.
The poll found a similar partisan split on the law’s expansion of the federal-state Medicaid program, which will begin providing health insurance to all Americans earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty limit beginning in 2014. Almost all of that expansion will be paid for using federal funds. Overall support is high at 70 percent.
Yet that high number is a better reflection of Democratic enthusiasm—88 percent say it should be upheld—than it is of broad agreement. Forty-six percent of Republicans think the Court should leave the Medicaid provision in place.
The Congressional Connection Poll showed some areas where a rough consensus exists. Dislike is widespread for the law’s “individual coverage provision,” which requires every American to obtain health insurance or pay a fine. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed, including 59 percent of Democrats, said that the Court should strike down the individual mandate.
The only group surveyed that broke from the pack on the mandate were black adults, 44 percent of whom support retaining the mandate. The public distaste for the mandate has been well established in many previous polls. Overall, it remains not only the key question before the Supreme Court but the best-known and least-liked feature of the sprawling health care law.
This article appears in the June 6, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.