Poll: Americans Think Obamacare Will Help the Poor, Not the Country

United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll finds public opinion on the health law remarkably steady despite rollout troubles.

A student looks at an information sheet offered by a supporter of the Affordable Healthcare Act, at an education and awareness event on the law, also know as 'Obamacare,' on the campus of Santa Monica City College in Santa Monica, California October 10, 2013.
National Journal
Ronald Brownstein
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Ronald Brownstein
Nov. 19, 2013, 4:09 p.m.

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. Minor­it­ies and whites re­main starkly di­vided as to whom will be­ne­fit from the pres­id­ent’s health care plan.

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.

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