I’ve been for some time tracking the Republican claim that their plan is to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, while their actions show that they have no intention at all of actually drafting “replace” legislation. Should ACA be overturned by the court or repealed by unified Republican government after the 2012 elections, that will be the end of it, most likely. No replacement is coming.

So why do they keep up the pretense? The monthly Kaiser tracking poll out today has a good reminder. The health care reform law remains generally although not extremely unpopular, ticking down a bit over the last month but still within the general range that it’s been in since passage. But supporters as usual can take some solace in the very stable numbers on what to do about it. There, the combination of either leaving it the same (20%) or expanding it (27%) continue to be more popular than the combination of straight repeal (21%) and repeal and replace (18%).

The thing is that the Kaiser option for “repeal and replace” is probably underreporting support for that option, because it asks whether Congress “should repeal the law and replace it with a Republican-sponsored alternative.” Presumably, this is less popular, at least among swing voters, than simply hearing a politician (even a Republican one) demand that Obamacare be repealed and replaced with something better.

The trick here is that presumably at least some of the group who prefers expanding ACA because, they believe, it won’t work well are open to a promise to “replace” it with something better, even if the promise comes from Republicans. On the other hand, while I’m sure that Republican pledges to repeal and replace goose that number up among loyal Republicans who might otherwise simply support a clean repeal, the group who chooses that option appears to be quite small indeed.

So while there have been some grudging concessions recently that there’s really no replace plan in the works, my guess is that this one isn’t going away any time soon.