Friday, August 19, 2011

Via Political Wire, I came across this article in which Charlie Cook appraises the current state of the 2012 presidential election. Though not really the focus of the piece, it claims that President Obama's "signature legislative accomplishment of health care reform remains very unpopular."

Now, I'm not saying the health care reform policy (either when it was working its way through the Congress or as an actually enacted law) has ever been wildly popular. However, "very unpopular" doesn't strike me as an accurate characterization, either. Just to make sure I wasn't missing any new polling data that would support Cook's view, I visited Polling Report's compilation on health policy. Here is what I found...

In the Kaiser Family Foundation's latest Health Tracking Poll (in the field during roughly the past week, July 13-18), 42% of Americans rated the health care reform law favorably and 43% unfavorably (with the rest unsure or refusing to say). This finding confirms the impression I (and other observers) have had, that public opinion is divided or mixed on the policy.

Another poll listed in the repository is that by Ann Selzer for Bloomberg. It is somewhat dated by now (June 17-20), but it used a question wording that seems unique:

"Turning to the health care law passed last year, what is your opinion of the law? It should be repealed. It may need small modifications, but we should see how it works. It should be left alone."

A majority of respondents (51%) went with the "see how it works" option, suggesting patience and possible receptivity of the American people to the law. The poll found 35% support for repeal and 11% for leaving the law as is. (Here's a link to the Bloomberg News article on the poll).

Scrolling further down the Polling Report archive, we see some additional June polls (primarily from early in the month), when a larger number of survey outfits were measuring public opinion on the health law. These tended to show the unfavorable response outdrawing the favorable one more substantially (by 10 percentage points in the AP-GfK poll; by 11 in the CBS News poll, and by a hefty 17 in the CNN/ORC poll).

However, CNN/ORC has been one of the few polls to probe an issue that was discussed extensively in the past on this blog: opposition from the left. CNN/ORC uses this follow-up probe with respondents who said they opposed the law, "Do you oppose that legislation because you think its approach toward health care is too liberal, or because you think it is not liberal enough?" The June 2011 results then break down as follows:

39% favoring the law in the first place
36% opposing the law for being too liberal
14% opposing it for not being liberal enough

Now, again, I am not expecting health care reform to be an asset for Obama as he seeks re-election next year. If I can play amateur political consultant, I think he'd be better off emphasizing whatever amount of job growth takes place in the next year and the capture of Osama Bin Laden. However, I believe the evidence shows public opinion on health care reform to be more mixed and nuanced than Cook's apparent dismissal of it as "very unpopular."

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