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Gradually, public warming more to Obamacare, polls demonstrate

Mar 28, 2014 - By David Lauter, McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- As Obamacare sign-ups hit the politically important threshold of 6 million this week, new polling has shown that the public has begun to warm a bit to the controversial law, but opponents continue to care much more about it than supporters.

For both sides in the intensely fought argument over the Affordable Care Act, the new data provide encouragement mixed with caution.

Supporters of the law can point to a recent Kaiser Foundation survey, which found that over the last two months, opinions about the law have begun to improve. In January, Kaiser's monthly polling found that opponents outnumbered supporters 50 percent to 34 percent. In the latest survey, opinion remained more negative than positive, but the gap had shrunk in half, to 46 percent to 38 percent.

Critically, approval of the law had increased among its target population -- people who lack insurance. Opposition among the uninsured had dropped 11 percentage points since February and approval had increased by 15 percentage points, Kaiser found. That improvement coincided with the start of a major push by the law's supporters to get people to sign up in advance of the March 31 open-enrollment deadline.

Kaiser's survey also found, as several other polls have, that a significant majority of Americans oppose the idea of repealing Obamacare, as most Republican lawmakers advocate.

Almost half of those surveyed (49 percent) said they wanted Congress to "keep the law in place and work to improve it." Another 10 percent said Congress should simply leave the law as is.

By contrast, about 3 in 10 either wanted the law repealed outright (18 percent) or repealed and replaced with a Republican alternative (11 percent).

On the other hand, the polling also shows that Republican opponents of the law have more intense feelings about it. The Kaiser survey found that a significant majority of those who favor the law said they were "tired of hearing" arguments about it. Not so for the opponents, who, by a narrow margin, were more inclined to say that continued debate over the law was "important for the country."

Similarly, a recent Pew Research Center survey found, like Kaiser, that opponents of Obamacare outnumbered supporters (53 percent to 41 percent in the Pew survey). But about 4 in 10 Americans "very strongly" disapprove of the law while only about a quarter "very strongly" support it, Pew found.

All that plays into how people think about the fall's midterm election. A recent CBS poll found that 70 percent of Republican voters were enthusiastic about voting in November; 58 percent of Democrats were. Pollsters from both parties agree that Obamacare provides one significant reason for that gap.

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Affordable Care Act