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Obama health reform law goes on trial amid deeply split public opinion

Public opinion polls on Obama's health reform law are murkier than Republican leaders claim. True, a majority of the public sees the individual mandate as unconstitutional, but Americans like many of its other provisions.

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Similarly, The Hill’s poll shows a majority of voters (52 percent) say health-care quality will be about the same or better if the health-care law survives. Forty-two percent predict it will be worse.

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Democratic voters are much more likely to support the health-care law than are Republicans. Independent voters, who are key to deciding the 2012 election, tend to be more sanguine than Republicans about the health-care reform law.

Independents are more likely to oppose repeal (47 percent) than favor it (43 percent), according to the Gallup survey. In the Pew report, a plurality of independents favor repeal (40 percent), but a combined 51 percent said Congress should expand the law (33 percent) or leave it as is (18 percent).

Finally, whom does the public trust to handle health care? Far and away, the answer is Democrats.

Pew’s poll shows the public says Democrats are better able to handle health care than are Republicans, by a 14 percentage point margin. They are also deemed better able to handle Medicare (13 percentage points) and abortion (16 percentage points).

What does that add up to for this election season? While both parties have vowed to make health care a top issue going into November, Democrats are expected to hammer Republicans over proposed changes to Medicare contained in the House Republican budget plan, because the Democrats have a significant polling edge on that issue.

“The Affordable Care Act shows that Democrats remain firmly committed to Medicare,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland, the House Democratic whip, in a statement. “This law strengthened Medicare by improving benefits, extending its solvency, and laying the foundation for reforms that will constrain costs and improve quality.”

On the other hand, Republicans may have to fight the perception that the fight over the health reform law is much ado about little. Seventy percent of Americans told Gallup that the law has not affected them at all.  

The margin of error in the Gallup/USA Today poll is plus or minus 4 percentage points. It is 3 points for the Hill  and the Pew polls (but greater when the Pew poll results are broken down by party affiliation). 

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