The first major post-election survey on Obamacare suggests that repeal is a lot less popular than President-elect Donald Trump and other Republicans may imagine.
The poll also finds that even many Americans who support repeal think Republicans should decide how they’d replace Obamacare before passing a law that would end the program.
The survey comes from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been tracking public attitudes toward the the Affordable Care Act since 2010, when President Barack Obama signed it into law.
Like earlier surveys, this one finds the public sharply divided on the law, with sentiments tracking partisan alignments closely. Democrats tend to support it, Republicans do not.
But in the Kaiser poll, support for full repeal is a distinctly minority position. Only 26 percent of Americans favor it, according to the survey, with another 17 percent preferring that Trump and Republicans merely “scale back what the law does.”
Support for full repeal actually declines further when people learn that it could mean allowing insurers to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions ― or that 20 million people could lose their insurance altogether. And even among those who want repeal, 42 percent think Republicans should hold off on passing it until they’ve agreed upon a replacement.
Meanwhile, a plurality of all respondents don’t want Republicans to dial back Obamacare at all, the poll says. Instead, 19 percent of Americans want Trump and the Republicans to “move forward with implementing” the law as it is. Another 30 percent want lawmakers to “expand what the law does.”
In other words, roughly half the country wants lawmakers to leave Obamacare alone, unless changes would make it bigger and stronger.
It’s just one poll, of course. Particularly with a complex issue like health care policy, surveys cannot always capture the nuances of public opinion ― or how voters would actually react, in real life, to the kinds of changes Republicans are proposing. A lot could depend on whether Republicans ever come together on a replacement scheme and, if they do, what that scheme entails.
But these findings certainly don’t represent a hiccup in public opinion. On the contrary, the new results from Kaiser are broadly consistent with what previous polls have shown for most of the last six years.
In the Kaiser poll, the portion of the public with favorable opinions of the law briefly peaked at 50 percent in 2010 after its passage. Since that time, percentage of approval has bounced between the high 30s and mid 40s. In the new survey, it’s at 43 percent.
That’s hardly a strong vote of confidence for Obamacare. But notwithstanding this ambivalence, pluralities have generally opposed total repeal, preferring to amend or strengthen the program.
And large majorities have always supported most of the law’s individual features, including financial assistance for low- and middle-income people buying insurance on their own, as well as guarantees of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
The one provision majorities have consistently opposed is the individual mandate ― that is, the requirement that people who decline affordable coverage pay a penalty.
Of course, this latest survey did detect one shift of potential political significance.
Among Republican voters specifically, the proportion who favor full repeal of Obamacare declined in the last month ― from 69 percent in October to 52 percent in November.
At the same time, the proportion of Republican voters who would prefer lawmakers merely scale back the law more than doubled, from 11 percent in October to 25 percent in November.
That change could be temporary, or include some statistical noise.
It could also represent a growing reluctance to junk the law, now that repeal might finally happen.
The Kaiser Foundation conducted its poll from Nov. 15 through Nov. 21, using a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of 1,202 adults. Pollsters reached respondents by both landline and mobile phone, conducting interviews in English and Spanish. The margin of error for the full sample, Kaiser said, was plus or minus 3 percentage points.