The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Public opinion on Obamacare has been locked in for years

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Today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll has some terrible findings for Obama and his signature domestic accomplishment — his disapproval is at record highs, and big majorities remain skeptical of Obamacare’s impact.

But it also finds that overall support for the law is back to pre-rollout levels, with the public now almost evenly split on it again, at 46-49.

I’ve got some new numbers from the Post polling team that shed a bit of light on why the law’s approval has enjoyed something of a rebound. The short version: It originally cratered because of a big drop among young people (aged 18-29), moderates, and independents, and also because groups who were already most hostile to the law turned on it even more fiercely.

The rebound in support is driven mostly by these comebacks, which are the largest changes our poll recorded:

* Among people under 30, support for the law has bounced back by 20 points, dropping sharply to 36 percent in November and returning to 56 percent now. (There has been a ton of chatter about young voters supposedly abandoning the law; we’ll see if this new poll causes anyone to revisit that assessment.)

* Among independents, support has come back by nine points, dropping to 36 percent in November and returning to 45 percent now.

* Among moderates, support has come back by 10 points, dropping to 44 percent in November and returning to 54 percent now.

The groups who already disliked the law the most also saw a big drop and then a comeback:

* Among conservatives, support has come back by a surprising 16 points, sinking to an abysmal 17 percent and returning to 33 percent now.

* Among Republicans, support has come back by nine points, dropping to a terrible 14 percent in November and returning to 25 percent now.

What all this probably means is that the temporary drop in support shouldn’t distract from the fact that the public is mostly divided down the middle on the law — with marginally more disapproving than approving, but with outright repeal remaining a minority position — and that this has been locked in for years now.

Seriously, go look at the trends over time. The current split is roughly where opinion was in August of 2009 (45-50), when the Post first polled on this. It’s marginally better now for the law than it was after the 2010 midterm drubbing to Dems (43-52). It’s almost exactly where it was in the summer of 2012, before Obama won reelection decisively (47-47). Then it dropped, and now it’s back to where it was before the rollout.

Here’s another interesting tidbit: The Post poll also finds that the public is roughly split on which party has “better ideas about the right size and role of the federal government,” a core question underlying the political battle over Obamacare, and polling on this has only moved marginally on it in the three years since 2010.

Top Dem pollster Stan Greenberg has been saying that the health law is not a wedge issue against Dems, because the simple truth is that the public remains polarized roughly down the middle over it. As our new poll suggests, this basic dynamic has not been changed by the rollout fiasco, and indeed, opinion has been at this place for years.