Barack Obama (EPA/Drew Angerer) Barack Obama (EPA/Drew Angerer)

The current battle over Obamacare — particularly its focus on those losing plans or seeing higher premiums — goes right to the heart of a political problem the law’s proponents have had since the beginning: Many perceive the law as an expansion of the safety net for other people, i.e,, poor people, not something that will help them or the middle class.

A new National Journal poll illustrates that this dynamic is very much alive — but it also explains why Democrats are still better off sticking with the law, and even why the GOP position of full repeal may not be a winner over the long term.

The poll finds solid majorities of Americans still believe the law will help the poor (59 percent) and people without insurance (63), but minorities of Americans think the law will help the whole country (42-51) and middle class (39-53).

But, crucially, there is a divide on this question that breaks down on racial and class lines, with core Dem groups continuing to believe the law will benefit the whole country, while core GOP groups think it will only help others. Ron Brownstein digs into the numbers:

On this question, Obama continues to face enormous skepticism from groups traditionally critical of him (about two-thirds of noncollege whites, just over three-fifths of rural residents, and nearly three-fifths of whites above 50 thought it would make things worse for the country). But, compared with the question about the law’s personal impact, the president rallied more support from groups favorable to him, with nearly three-fifths of minorities and almost exactly half of college whites saying the law would do more to make things better than worse for the country overall.

In a sense, this has been the story of Obamacare for some time now. The 2012 election was fought in part around the question of whether the health law would unfairly redistribute wealth downward, and whether that was a good or bad thing for the country overall. You saw this in GOP ads accusing the president of gutting Medicare to pay for Obamacare; in the “makers versus takers” rhetoric; and in the controversies over Mitt Romney’s remarks about the 47 percent and his post-election assessment that Obama won because he had given “gifts of the government” to “his base coalition.”

The vision of government’s proper role as embodied in Obamacare (which is, yes, redistributive, though to what degree is not yet clear), could well pose a potential long term threat to Dems among white voters. (This could be made worse if the law fails over time.) But as Brownstein notes, even skepticism among white voters has not translated into majority support in this poll for scrapping the law (or, by extension, giving up on the vision of government at its core). And this basic conception of government’s role continues to enjoy support among key elements of the “coalition of the ascendant,” particularly nonwhites. If the law does work over time, the GOP insistence on repeal could continue alienating groups the party needs to improve among, particularly Latinos, who favor activist government.

Meanwhile, if Dems do abandon the law, it would be tantamount to abandoning the most ambitious experiment in this form of Democratic governance — which core Dem constituencies continue to believe in — we’ve seen in decades.

* DISAPPROVAL OF OBAMACARE SOARS, BUT REPEAL A MINORITY POSITION: Relatedly, a new CBS poll finds, as others have, that approval of Obama and the health law are in the toilet, but at the same time, it also finds this:

What should happen to the health care law?

Working well, kept as is: 7

Needs some changes: 48

Should be repealed: 43

And so, even though disapproval is soaring, the GOP insistence on repeal remains a minority position. Two other polls this week also displayed that this dynamic is more or less holding.

* SUPPORT FOR OBAMACARE SLIPPING AMONG DEMS: Another important tidbit from the new CBS poll:

Almost six in ten Democrats continue to support the law, but their support has dropped 16 points from last month — from 74 percent in October to 58 percent today.

In a sense, this is as it should be: The administration made a huge mess with the rollout, and Dems should disapprove of it. However, it’s worth remembering that Dems — and the party’s core constituencies — remain behind the law.

* HARRY REID SET TO GO NUCLEAR THIS WEEK: I reported yesterday that the Senate Majority Leader was set to change the Senate rules by simple majority this week, and now the New York Times adds this:

“If the votes are there, we will probably do it this week,” the aide said, speaking anonymously to divulge internal plans. A second Democratic aide said Mr. Reid would go ahead once the Senate had wrapped up debate on a contentious proposal to combat sexual assault in the military.

I am told Senate leaders believe they have the votes. The question is whether Republicans have any way of backing off their position that the most important appeals court in the country should not have its vacancies filled at all (at least by Obama). If not, Dems don’t have any choice but to go nuclear.

* OBAMACARE WEBSITE FAR FROM FIXED: The New York Times has a sobering report detailing that the federal Obamacare website is still a good ways away from being repaired. As the report details, White House officials say that the computer systems that allow people to acompare and enroll in plans are “still being repaired” and are “not performing as well as they had hoped.”

Though four months remain until the end of the enrollment period, if the site is not working by the White House’s own end-of-November deadline — which is ten days away — the coverage will be even more brutal than it has been thus far.

* DEMS FURIOUS WITH OBAMA OVER BOTCHED ROLLOUT: The Hill quotes a bunch of anonymous Dems venting angrily about the administration’s terrible mishandling of the rollout of the law. But this is the quote that really matters:

Democrats say the biggest favor Obama can do for them at the moment is to focus on untangling the web and trying to smooth out the glitches on healthcare. “The only way he can really make it up to us is by fixing this s–t,” one Democratic House aide said.

Well, yes, what really matters is whether the law works over time. But Dems must remember that they are tied to the law’s long term fate, and breaking with the law in any serious way is utter folly.

* OBAMA BACKS PIECEMEAL IMMIGRATION OVERHAUL: The President, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, says he’s okay with it if House Republicans want to move forward in pieces:

“If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don’t care what it looks like,” Mr. Obama said. “What we don’t want to do is simply carve out one piece of it…but leave behind some of the tougher stuff that still needs to get done.”

And that’s fine. What matters is whether the end product does something about the 11 million. Even immigration advocates have suggested the only way to get to comprehensive reform may be if House Republicans pass piecemeal measures first.

* TIME FOR BOEHNER TO ACT ON IMMIGRATION: The Post has a good editorial urging the House Speaker to agree to go to conference over immigration, which Boehner has ruled out if it involves the Senate bill (which is comprehensive and includes a path to citizenship):

President Obama said Tuesday that he is open to dealing with immigration in a piecemeal fashion. But the House can’t dictate that only border security and deportation are on the table. Mr. Boehner should let House Republicans vote on the parts of immigration reform they consider priorities and take that “sensible step-by-step” approach into negotiations with the Senate. It is unserious, and unconstructive, to tell the Senate what it can and cannot bring to the table in negotiations with the House.

Boehner could get there if he wanted to. The question is whether House Republicans think they need to solve their Latino problem and show they can govern. Because the House GOP majority is invulnerable, the answer — for 2014, anyway — may be  No.

* AND DEMS SET RECORD FUNDRAISING HAUL: The DCCC has announced that it raised $7.1 million in October for House races, a record for an off-year October. That suggests the Dem base was fired up by the government shutdown, and Dems are citing the haul as evidence GOP extremism will help them in 2014.  But it’s worth noting the serious Obamacare rollout problems didn’t hit until November — so that month’s numbers may tell us what impact that’s having on the base.

What else?