The Obamacare Placebo Effect?

Sentiment probably follows partisan lines. 
A majority of Americans disapprove, according to the latest Gallup poll. Photographer: David McNew/Getty Images

Hey, pollsters! Could we get a little more detail about the people who say they are being helped by Obamacare or hurt by it, and how?

Gallup has new numbers today showing that the Affordable Care Act continues to be quite unpopular. In this reading, 40 percent of Americans approve of the law and 55 percent disapprove. It's also interesting to see how many people believe they have been personally helped (10 percent) or hurt (23 percent) by the law (see also similar recent numbers from Kaiser). But as Gallup says, these sentiments are strongly correlated with party. From just the raw numbers, there's no way of knowing whether that's because Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be helped by the law (and less likely to be hurt), or if people from both parties are just more likely to perceive the effects of the law as confirming their partisan beliefs.

I strongly suspect partisanship is the answer.

We need better questions. First, how about some open-ended ones that ask how people have been helped or hurt? Second, how about some insurance information. People who have kept their employer-linked insurance may perceive that Obamacare has helped or hurt them. But that doesn't tell us anything about those who have had policies canceled or who have obtained insurance for the first time. People on Medicare may perceive themselves to have been helped by the closing of the so-called doughnut hole or by new benefits, or they may perceive themselves to have been hurt by cuts to Medicare Advantage.

And then there's the part I'm most interested in: Do those who have signed up through the exchanges, are newly qualified for Medicaid or newly eligible for their parents' plans attribute any of those changes to "Obamacare" or "the Affordable Care Act?" If they don't, then they may feel the law isn't doing anything for them, but they still might object to repeal if it means losing their insurance.

This isn't to say that the top-line numbers are irrelevant. The ACA (not just "Obamacare") polls badly, and that's important. But the politics of health-care reform goes beyond that, and it would be nice if pollsters could help us understand it.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.