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The most interesting number of the day is 61 percent

What do Americans think we should do with the Affordable Care Act? Right now, it's hard to tell. They are giving out some serious mixed messages.


US President Barack Obama speaks at Temple Emanu-El November 6, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. AFP/Getty Images

In the latest CNN/ORC International poll, released Sunday, 61 percent of respondents said they wanted to leave the law as is, or make some changes. Thirty-eight percent said they wanted to repeal the law and replace it with a new system, or go back to the old days before Obamacare. That sounds like people are warming up to the law, or at least afraid of doing anything drastic to change the current status of health care in America.

Why is that 61 percent so interesting? Because other recent polls have painted different portraits of public opinion on the Affordable Care Act.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll from April 29 showed that 48 percent of Americans disapprove of the health care law. (the mark of a useful poll about the Affordable Care Act is not referring to the law by its name or nickname. Otherwise, you're mostly just testing for partisanship.) Forty-four percent of Americans said the country's health-care system was getting worse because of the recent legislative changes.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll from the end of April also showed that people were unimpressed by the Obamacare rollout — even though many Americans were also aware that more than 8 million people signed up for insurance under the law.

 

In the same week, NBC News and the Wall Street Journal released a poll that showed 46 percent of Americans that the Affordable Care Act was a bad idea. Thirty-six percent said the law was a good idea. However, this poll does label the Affordable Care Act as "Barack Obama's health care plan."

Forty-nine percent of respondents said the health-care law needed a major overhaul or to be completely eliminated, while 48 percent said it was working fine or needed minor changes.

However, there was other public polling evidence that seemed to corroborate CNN's findings. Although the KFF respondents were underwhelmed by Obamacare so far, they also wanted Congress to fix it, rather than repeal it.

 

An NPR poll from early April showed that slightly more people favored keeping the Affordable Care Act rather than replacing it.

So ... what do all this different signals mean? For one thing, they prove how much influence the questions used to test public opinion have on the opinions produced. Frame a policy one way, and you could get wildly different responses than if you framed it another way. One question might please Republicans, while another could inflame them.

There's another question that was asked in the CNN poll that goes a long way in explaining in how complex and mercurial opinions in Obamacare can seem.

When respondents were asked whether they thought the health-care law was a success or a failure, 49 percent said it was too soon to tell. Last November, 53 percent said it was too soon to definitively say how the Affordable Care Act will be written about in the history books.

Given all the delays and mixed messages Americans have heard about Obamacare in the last few months, most people seem to have no idea what to think of the law, which is why the opinions seem to change, and why the questions can turn responses every which way. Until the health-care law is more divorced from the politics of the day — like Social Security or Medicare — we can expect the Obamacare polls to mostly graft neatly onto the ideological tilt of the month. There's still plenty of time for Americans to decide they like or hate the new health-care changes. For now, they're willing to wait out the new law and see what happens, or what the next election brings. Come next year, there might be many more people willing to finally grade the Affordable Care Act on its merits or problems.

 

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.

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