October 30, 2013

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll is set for release later today that will find that fewer than one in three Americans think the problems plaguing the Obamacare website are a sign of deeper problems with the law:

With the rollout of the federal health-care law under heavy fire in Congress, a majority of Americans are either withholding judgment about the technical problems many have encountered on the federal insurance exchange website, or believe those problems can be fixed. [...]

The WSJ/NBC News poll of 800 Americans found that 31% believe the exchange website problems represent a long-term design flaw in the law itself “that cannot be corrected.”

By comparison, 37% said they problems were a “short-term technical issue” that can be fixed. Another 30% said it was still too early to say one way or the other.

Fewer than a quarter of those under 35 say the problems can’t be fixed, a key tidbit, given that getting large numbers of “young and healthies” to sign up is important for the law’s long term prospects: Meanwhile, NBC’s Mark Murray reports this finding:

A plurality of independents – 38 percent – respond that it’s too soon to say if it’s a short-term or long-term problem.

To be fair, this poll was taken before the “Obama lied about keeping your plan” story cranked up in earnest. And that could make a real political difference. One red state Democrat up for reelection in 2014, Mary Landrieu, is already proposing legislation that would allow people to keep their own plans. But it’s unclear how this would work, and it could amount to little more than garden variety political positioning. Indeed, Landrieu herself also says that she doesn’t believe Obama’s misleading rhetoric about people keeping their plans was “intentional,” and that the country would be “better off” if Republicans worked with Dems to fix the law, rather than pushing for repeal. In other words, “keep and fix.”

Still, it’s certainly possible that you could see a serious outbreak of Dem skittishness.

I’d say it’s likely Obama will take a polling hit from Obamacare’s problems. But my bet is Republicans will continue to fare worse. Remember: polling has not moved much on Obamacare for literally years now. Majorities or pluralities disapprove of the law, but the more finely grained polls find that a chunk of those who disapprove think the law has not gone far enough. And disapproval simply does not translate into majority support for full repeal, let alone the harsher GOP tactics to sabotage the law, which are opposed by large majorities.

The political read on Obamacare among Republicans has for years been premised on the idea that the American mainstream views it as the unequivocal catastrophe and threat to American freedom that GOP lawmakers have long claimed it to be. It’s long been my belief that the middle of the country views the law in more nuanced terms, is willing to give it a chance to work, and sees it as better than the GOP alternative, which isn’t a serious alternative at all. Today’s findings — fewer than a third agree with the GOP view that the current problems reveal it as an unsalvageable disaster — would seem to be in sync with that.

Of course, if the website doesn’t get fixed by the end of November, and problems persist into the new year, all bets are off. In the long run, all that matters is whether the policy works.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.