Sunday, January 22, 2017

Obamacare's Favorability Rises as its Champion Leaves Office and Nation Transitions to Trump

With the Republicans now holding the presidency, House, and Senate, the Affordable Care Act (ACA; aka Obamacare) will almost certainly be repealed. With the nature of a GOP-led replacement plan (if the party can ever coalesce around one) unclear, the percentage of uninsured Americans will likely rise, perhaps dramatically. Yet, even as opponents of former President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement continue blasting the law, headlines such as the following have been popping up lately.

"CNN/ORC Poll Shows Last-Minute Love for Obamacare"

"As GOP Pushes Repeal, Obamacare Has Never Been More Popular" (NBC/Wall Street Journal)

For most of the ACA's history, it has been "underwater" in the public-opinion realm. Higher percentages of Americans have opposed the law than supported it, the only question being whether by a relatively large or relatively small margin.* Now, however, as shown in the following graphic, four mid-January polls by major news organizations have each shown the ACA to be viewed (slightly) more favorably than not.

The polls' sponsors (with article links), dates in the field, question-wordings, and results are as follows:

  • CNN/ORC (Jan. 12-15) "generally favor" (49%) vs. "generally oppose" (47%).
  • NBC/WSJ (Jan. 12-15) "good idea" (45%) vs. "bad idea" (41%).
  • CBS News (Jan. 13-16) approve (48%, "strongly" plus "somewhat") vs. disapprove (47%, "strongly" plus "somewhat").
  • FOX News (Jan. 15-18) "generally favorable (50%) or unfavorable (46%)" (also asks whether respondents "strongly" or "somewhat" hold their views).
Even when the ACA, overall, was unpopular, the percentage of Americans wanting to repeal it in full and not replace it (i.e., going back to pre-2010 health care in the U.S.) was small. Now, it is really small. According to the article accompanying the FOX News poll, "The number of voters who want Obamacare completely repealed is at a new low..." (23%). And, as the now-retired Harry Reid (D-NV) pointed out in his farewell speech on the Senate floor, "support for repeal without a replacement is in the basement."

Why the late rise in the ACA's popularity?

One possibility is that, as the departing Obama himself has risen in his job-approval ratings, his popularity could be rubbing off on policies associated with him.

A second possibility involves deeper views about the role of government. In recent years, the Pew Research Center has asked, "Is it the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that all Americans have health care coverage?" (Gallup has also asked this question in the past.) When Pew queried respondents earlier this month, 60% said yes. According to Pew, "The share saying it is the government’s responsibility has increased from 51% last year and now stands at its highest point in nearly a decade."

Whether belief in government as guarantor of a health safety net is driving attitudes toward the ACA, or attitudes toward the government's role and toward the ACA are both manifestations of some deeper dynamic, is unknown. For example, national Republicans' strong desire (now with a clear opportunity) to repeal the ACA, along with the widely publicized claim that repeal (without a replacement) could throw nearly 20 million Americans off health insurance, could be leading the public to take another look at Obamacare. Regardless of the exact causal mechanisms, public acceptance of a government role in health insurance, in general, and of the ACA, in particular, appear to be on the upswing.

*Complicating the issue a bit is the phenomenon of opposition from the left, which this blog has addressed many times. The general idea is that liberals, who might be expected to favor government efforts to expand health-insurance coverage and regulation of insurers (which the ACA included), nevertheless would tell pollsters they opposed the ACA, because it did not implement a Canadian-style single-payer plan (or other systems popular on the left).


Anonymous said...

The articles don't indicate whether the polls asked about "Obamacare" or "Affordable Care Act". I contend one of the reasons Republicans have been against it has been that Obama has his name on it. How many Democrats would be in favor of Trumpcare?

Anonymous said...

Of course, Obama did not put his name on the act. It was the republicans, so that for better or worse, and in their case hopefully worse, the Act was to be forever associated with Obama. Now with the polls showing more positive reactions, that may be what has republicans now more hesitant to just make it go away.