Here we go again.
CNN has just released a new poll finding that a sizable majority, 56 percent, opposes the Affordable Care Act. A meager 39 percent support it. Those are terrible numbers! At the White House briefing just now, press secretary Jay Carney was grilled on the law’s unpopularity.
And there’s no question about it — the law is unpopular. But why is it unpopular? Well, here’s one reason, from the internals of the CNN poll: Fourteen percent oppose the law because it’s not liberal enough. Thirty-six percent oppose it because it’s too liberal.
In other words, more people support the law (39) than think it’s too liberal (36)! It’s hard to see how that bolsters the conservative case against it or the argument that the public wants the law repealed.
However, another number in the poll that also helps explain the law’s unpopularity does bolster the conservative case: Fifty four percent oppose the individual mandate, versus only 44 percent who support it.
Taking these numbers all together, you can see why some liberal health reformers are starting to think about life after the individual mandate — about ways to replace the mandate and simultaneously improve the law. It sems to be dragging the law’s popularity down in the public mind. At the same time, the public seems to support reform in general — detailed polls show no mandate for full repeal — which suggests that they’d rather keep the law and change it than get rid of it entirely.
In this context, the current legal challenge to the law’s constitutionality now underway in a Georgia court is particularly interesting. Some observers expect the court to rule that the law is constitutional. But if it doesn’t — the panel seems to be sharply questioning the government’s defense of the mandate — you may see more reformers start talking about life after the mandate as the best way to salvage reform in general.
Moral of the story: Public opinion on health reform is complicated. But expect the reporting on today’s CNN poll to completely ignore the fact that a sizable chunk of Americans opposes the law because it’s not liberal enough.