A new survey finds that a strong contingent of Americans still don't like Obamacare, and that intensity is likely to bring out more votes for Republicans than Democrats this fall.
Democrat Peter Hart and Republican Bill McInturff, the lead pollsters of the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, presented their new analysis at an annual insurance industry conference Thursday. According to their numbers, 2014 could be shaping up to be a Republican year, a cause for concern for Democrats who could lose the Senate majority over close reelection bids.
"The law has become like Velcro," McInturff said at the America's Health Insurance Plans conference. "Anything bad that happens in health care now is attributed to the health care law."
When asked about the coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act — such as protection for consumers with preexisting conditions — 44 percent of voters said they feel hopeful. But 51 percent said they feel fearful when hearing about the possibility that premiums will go up, that some Americans are losing their current coverage, and that employer-sponsored insurance may change.
"Any off-year election is about one thing: turnout," Hart said. "Intensity on these issues makes all the difference in the world."
It's why the Obama administration is doing all it can to prevent negative personal stories from cropping up between now and the election, McInturff said, such as this week's announcement allowing plans that do not meet the law's coverage requirements to be renewed for two additional years. Administration officials denied that the delay had any political motives.
The Democrats' major problem in 2014 may be that there's not enough time to repair the negative impression people have about the Affordable Care Act, McInturff said.
"After hearing more about the health care law, voters become more supportive, but opinion remains a modest net negative," McInturff said.
Some 9 percent of people said a candidate's position on the health care law is the most important factor in determining how they will vote, while 51 percent of people said it is a major factor, and only 10 percent said it is not a factor at all.
Within the 9 percent who put health care as their top voting issue for 2014, 60 percent said they oppose the law, compared with 30 percent who support it.
"I see 9 percent as quite high compared to other precedents," McInturff said.
Other hot-button issues — such as abortion, gun rights, and gay marriage — usually have about 5 percent of voters indicating that it will be the most important issue when picking a candidate, the pollsters said.
While favorability of the health care law is split along party lines, the GOP appears to have the upper hand with independent voters. Some 79 percent of Republicans oppose the law, compared with 8 percent who said they support it. Meanwhile, 50 percent of independents say they oppose the law, and 29 percent support it. Democrats remain loyal supporters, with only 13 percent opposed.
Among all voters surveyed, 45 percent indicated they oppose the law, and 36 percent of those reported strong opposition. Roughly 34 percent support the law, and of those 23 percent strongly support it.
Another issue for Democrats in 2014, Hart said, is the lack of support for the law among the uninsured.
Roughly 49 percent of voters without health coverage oppose the law and 23 percent support it. Among those who drop in and out of insurance, 54 percent oppose the law and 28 percent support it.
But Republicans could also be caught if voters decide they would rather "fix and keep" the law rather than "repeal and replace," McInturff said. Most voters — 54 percent — say they want the health law fixed rather than totally eliminated or kept as-is. And 70 percent of undecided voters said they want it fixed.
Health care is second only to the economy and jobs as a voting issue in 2014, Hart said. Some 15 percent of voters say health care is the No. 1 issue, while 31 percent say it's in the top two issues for 2014, as opposed to the economy/jobs, which 36 percent of respondents said was the No. 1 issue and 55 percent said was in the top two.
Respondents were interviewed by phone between Feb. 16 and 20. The results had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.