President Barack Obama is urging Democratic candidates to defend the health-care law in this year’s elections and turn it into a winning issue.
Despite some progress, they’ve got a long way to go.
Fifty-three percent of Americans oppose the law, even as the proportion of those saying it should be repealed has dropped to 32 percent, a Bloomberg National Poll shows.
Several of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions do enjoy modest to robust popularity. That suggests Republicans may also need to update their message from the calls for repeal in the 2010 and 2012 elections, if they want to appeal to voters beyond their party’s base.
“They should tweak it and make it better,” said Marshall Wade, 60, a federal worker and independent voter from Fredericksburg, Virginia.
The majority of Americans -- 60 percent -- say the law has so far meant no real change to their own health care. About a quarter say it has resulted in big changes, while 15 percent report small differences.
Fifty-six percent favor keeping Obamacare with perhaps “small modifications,” while 10 percent would leave it as is. That’s the highest level of acceptance yet in a Bloomberg poll.
“I don’t think we should apologize for it; I don’t think we should be defensive about it,” Obama said in April. “There is a strong, good, right story to tell.”
Even among Republicans, the proportion of those who want to see the law abolished has dropped significantly. Only a modest majority -- 56 percent -- want repeal, down from 67 percent in a Bloomberg poll taken in July 2010.
“Most Republicans want to see the law repealed, but that view is eroding,” said J. Ann Selzer, who oversaw the survey. Her Des Moines, Iowa-based firm, Selzer & Co., conducted the June 6-9 poll of 1,005 adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Among independents, often the key to winning close elections, 38 percent want to see the law repealed. Almost half of them oppose the law and think it went too far.
In addition to Obama, other senior Democrats have encouraged their party’s candidates not to run away from the issue in their 2014 campaigns.
“It’s a beginning, and I think that the people can handle the truth,” former President Bill Clinton said last month in an interview with PBS’s Gwen Ifill. “Talk about what’s good about it, talk about the remaining problems, commit to fix the problems. That’s the best political position.”
The issue is already dominating the airwaves. More than 144,000 health-care-related campaign spots have run on broadcast television in U.S. House and Senate races through June 9, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG. That compares to 60,581 at roughly that same point of the 2010 campaign. The health-care legislation, after about a year of debate, cleared Congress in March 2010.
Those Democrats hardest hit with anti-Obamacare campaign ads, including U.S. senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, have defended the law and argued for amendments to it when asked about the topic. More often, though, they focus on other topics.
Americans are roughly divided when asked whether a candidate’s support for the health-care law makes them more or less likely to vote for that nominee.
That changes dramatically when looked at through a partisan prism. Among Republicans, almost two-thirds say they would be less likely to back a candidate who supported Obamacare, while 60 percent of Democrats say it would make them more likely to vote for that person.
Fifty-eight percent of poll respondents they’re unhappy with Obama’s handling of the health-care issue, up from 54 percent in a March poll. And the majority who oppose the law includes 42 percent who said it went too far while 11 percent object because it didn’t go far enough.
With the exception of mandated coverage, many of the law’s elements are popular. Three-quarters support the provision to allow people up to age 26 remain on their parents’ policies; 65 percent back prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions, and 55 percent support eliminating lifetime coverage caps.
“Everyone should have access to health care,” said Laurie Hartman, 65, an independent voter and a retired special education teacher from Buffalo, New York. “Whatever cost increases there will be will be worth it.”
Requiring all adults go have coverage -- the law’s central tenet -- is opposed by 52 percent.
“You shouldn’t make it mandatory that everyone have health care because it infringes on individual rights,” said Laura Jackson, 57, an independent voter and high school special education teacher in Fort Worth, Texas. “I don’t think it is going to hold down costs, and I suspect it will increase costs.”
Health care is easily overshadowed by jobs and the economy when poll participants were asked to pick what they view as the most important issue facing the country right now.
Twenty-eight percent named jobs and unemployment, followed by health care at 17 percent, a decline in real income for workers at 16 percent, and the federal deficit at 13 percent. Immigration was picked by just 6 percent, followed by climate change at 5 percent, and terrorism and taxes, both at 4 percent.
The survey found an even split on voting intentions for the House, with 43 percent of those definitely planning to vote saying they’ll back a Republican or are leaning that way and the same number planning to back a Democrat or leaning that way.
Republicans in Congress have a slightly lower favorability rating than their Democratic counterparts, 34 percent to 37 percent. Both are below Obama’s favorability rating of 44 percent.