Obamacare polls: Support is dropping, but hasn't yet collapsed

Polls show support for Obamacare has not fallen off a cliff, despite a failed rollout and concerns about users losing their insurance policies. But the trends are worrying for Democrats.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File
An Obamacare supporter talks to opponents of the law as they rally on the sidewalk in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington in this file photo from March. Public opinion on Obamacare is shifting.

Public support for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act has taken a hit. That could translate into rising pressure on Congress to alter the law, and it makes the 2014 election a tougher hurdle for some of the politicians who supported it.

The trend is clear in a new Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll and in other recent surveys of public opinion.

Fully 50 percent of Americans now say they think Congress should repeal the act, according to the Monitor/TIPP poll, conducted Nov. 21 to 25. That’s up from 47 percent who thought so in October.

The poll also found that 6 in 10 Americans doubt the Obama administration will be able to fix the law’s insurance-shopping website, HealthCare.gov, during December. And 8 in 10 say people should be concerned “about the security features of the Obamacare website.”

Other polls also show the Affordable Care Act (ACA) dropping in public esteem during the troubled rollout of its online insurance marketplace, and they reveal spillover effects on the political climate for both Obama and Congress.

A new CNN/ORC poll finds that Republicans now have a slight edge over Democrats when registered voters are asked which party they’d prefer in their congressional seat. That’s a reversal of fortune from a month earlier.

The share of Americans who disapprove of how Mr. Obama is doing his job has spiked in the past month to 55 percent, the highest level on record in ABC News/Washington Post monthly tracking that began when he took office in 2009.

The damage in public opinion scores could affect Obama’s ability to sell new initiatives to a politically fractious Congress, and his ability to pass along a strong coalition of voters to whoever succeeds him as the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2016.

One potentially telling indicator: Women, an important pro-Obama constituency who have historically been evenly divided on the ACA, are registering their most negative views on the law to date in a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Some 48 percent of women reported an unfavorable view of the law, to 32 percent favorable, according to the poll released Nov. 22.

Almost that entire gap appeared just in the past month.

Although that sounds worrisome for Obama, it’s also a reminder of how polling results can ebb and flow – sometimes with sharp swings.

It’s far from certain that the recent polling trends will persist. And it’s important to note that, even after all the bad publicity (about unexpected insurance cancellations as well as website flaws) public support for Obamacare isn’t necessarily falling off a cliff.

Yes, the terrain of opinion has become less favorable toward the law, at least for now. But it’s an incremental change – and one that could potentially fade if the law’s implementation starts to go more smoothly.

The Kaiser poll, taken Nov. 13 to 18, found 49 percent of Americans view the health reform law unfavorably. That was a jump of 5 percentage points in one month – but not enough to match the record unfavorable reading of 51 percent, seen in a Kaiser poll two years ago.

In the Monitor/TIPP poll, overall views of the law are in some ways little change since the rollout of insurance exchanges on Oct. 1. This month, 54 percent say they “oppose” the law strongly or somewhat, the same number who said that in a poll taken between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2. In both the new survey and the early October one, 40 percent said they support the law.

Amid growing talk about legislative fixes or outright repeal, it’s also notable that polls have found solid support for major pillars of the ACA. A Kaiser poll in March found that two-thirds of Americans support the idea of “guaranteed issue” of insurance, regardless of a person’s preexisting medical condition. Three in 4 like the idea of insurance exchanges, and subsidies to help lower-income Americans afford insurance. (By contrast, a mandate on individuals to buy insurance or pay a penalty lacks majority support.)

What comes next, as the law’s implementation gets further along, is perhaps the key question.

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