CONGRESS

Poll: No Blame if Court Nixes Health Care Law

The United States Supreme Court in Washington is seen Saturday, March 24, 2012, two days before the court will begin hearing arguments on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, derisively labeled "Obamacare" by its opponents. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)  
National Journal
Margot Sanger-Katz
June 5, 2012, 5:40 p.m.

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.

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