The new Kaiser monthly polling on health care is out, with relatively good news for Barack Obama and the Democrats, although still with plenty of cause for concern.

First the good news for the president:

• Overall opinion of the 2010 health-care law is split (42 percent favorable, 43 percent unfavorable), basically matching the best it’s performed in this poll over the past 15 months. 

• For the first time since 2010, more people said the Affordable Care Act (ACA)would have a positive effect on them and their family, with “better off” up to 27 percent and “worse off” at  a new low at 25 percent

• The gap between those who would prefer the 2010 law retained or expanded over those who would like it repealed or repealed and replaced is up to 17 points, the highest yet. Only 37 percent want either a straight repeal or a repeal with a GOP replacement.

• And birth control coverage is popular: by a whopping 63 percent/33 percent margin, people support “the new federal requirement that private health insurance plans cover the cost of birth control.”

Leaving aside that last one, which Kaiser apparently hasn’t asked before, the trends are moving in Obama’s direction on all of the others. It’s small enough that it could be just a random fluctuation, so I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on it, but if there is a trend it’s probably in that direction. Meanwhile, while the trend is good, the absolute numbers are still nothing for Democrats to get excited about. And intensity is still strongly on the anti-ACA side, suggesting that the law could still end up costing Obama votes even if it winds up fairly popular. Then again, it’s not clear how we should interpret those intensity reports; it’s very possible that those who strongly oppose “Obamacare” are driven much more by their opposition to the “Obama” part of it.

My guess is that a lot of the recent trend has nothing at all to do with health care. It’s most likely a good demonstration that when the economy improves the president’s approval ratings go up, and when the president is more popular then everything associated with him is relatively more popular. Still, it can’t hurt that the law’s least popular feature (the individual mandate — people hate the idea of mandates) has been mostly out of the news for the last month, and a real, specific, and popular benefit has been in the news. 

Greg made the point earlier that both sides see this as a good issue, which means in a zero-sum general election that one side is wrong. This poll was conducted in mid-February, just as the contraception issue was starting to become more visible; it will certainly be interesting to see where things are next month, but so far it certainly doesn’t appear to be helping those who oppose the Affordable Care Act.

(via Jonathan Cohn)