The Washington Post

The dirty little secret of Obamacare? Tons of people don’t even know it’s a law.

For all of the political rhetoric spent on President Obama's health care law -- defund it! implement it! -- there's one fact that consistently gets lost: Almost half of all Americans don't know it's the law of the land.

Yes, you read that last sentence right. In the Kaiser Family Foundation's August tracking poll, 44 percent(!) said they were "unaware" of the current status of the law. The bulk of those people -- 31 percent -- said they simply didn't know if the Affordable Care Act was law or not. Another eight percent said the law had been overturned by Congress while five percent said it had been overturned by the Supreme Court.

Image courtesy of Kaiser Family Foundation.
Image courtesy of Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Kaiser numbers affirm a point we have made many times in this space before: Never assume that average people follow any of the policy and political fights in D.C. with even one-hundredth the attention that the inside-the-Beltway crowd does. (Our favorite example of this low information reality is a Pew poll done in 2010 that asked people to name the Chief Justice of the United States. The results are staggering.)

The lack of knowledge that the health care law is, well, a law can be interpreted in any number of ways.

Allies of President Obama argue that the lack of knowledge has allowed misconceptions about what is or isn't in the law to grow and thrive; as the law begins to be implemented in earnest, people will learn more about it and the overall negative ratings of the law will improve, they insist.

Not so, according to Obamacare detractors.  The fact that so many people still don't know about the law is a blessing for Obama, they argue. Once the law begins to impact peoples' daily lives, they will find out all the things they don't like about it -- sending the law into a public opinion death spiral.

We remain unconvinced that even once the law's major provisions -- like the insurance exchange -- begin to be implemented that the number of people who understand the law or even know it's a law at all will rise all that much higher. If you want to make a safe bet in American politics, bet that the public is paying less attention to politics than you think they are. Always.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.



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Sean Sullivan · August 29, 2013

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