The just-released Kaiser poll shows a slight decrease in the number of Americans who want to see the entire law repealed, from 32 percent in October — before the election — to 26 percent today. The poll has asked this question 16 times over the last two years; that's the lowest it's ever been.
The big news, though, is that Republicans are driving that decrease. While 69 percent said prior to the election that they wanted full repeal, today just 52 percent say that. At the same time, the number calling for Washington to instead "scale back what the law does" has doubled, from 11 percent to 24 percent.
That 52 percent isn't quite a new low -- that would be 51 percent in June 2015 -- but it's close to it, and it comes right after support for repeal hit a new high.
For Democrats, this will reinforce what they've long been arguing: That repealing the law is impractical and likely to come back to bite Republicans. People on the right might love the abstract idea of getting rid of a law they disagree with. But now that it's on the books, Republicans are faced with the prospect of taking away a health-care option for many Americans, no matter how flawed that option is.
They're also faced with the prospect of getting rid of some of the law's very popular pieces — though President-elect Donald Trump and others have suggested they'll move to reinstitute "the good parts." The big ones include coverage of preexisting conditions and allowing young people to stay on their parents' insurance until they're 26 years old.
It remains to be seen if this is just a blip in the polling or a true moment of buyer's remorse for many Republicans. It could also be something of a reaction to the promises to keep certain parts of the law — which could be construed as scaling back what the law does, even as Trump and GOP leaders continue to talk in terms of "repeal."
But if there is some buyer's remorse, it's not really a huge surprise. Polling of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare has for years shown that people hate the idea of the government taking away things to which they have become accustomed.
A 2011 Washington Post-ABC News poll, for example, showed that 81 percent of respondents thought Social Security was headed for a crisis. But sizable majorities also opposed many of the major ways to prevent that, including raising the retirement age by one year (57 percent opposed), raising Social Security taxes (61 percent) and reducing benefits for future retirees (66 percent). A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll that same year showed that less than a quarter of Americans said they supported making significant cuts to Social Security or Medicare in order to balance the budget.
No, Obamacare isn't a full-fledged entitlement program. But it does give people previously unavailable options and some things that they like very much — including coverage of preexisting conditions and keeping young adults on their parents' plans — that could suddenly be taken away. And even if Republicans can reimplement those things, it's not hard to see Democrats bludgeoning them with the argument (no matter how over-simplified it is) that they just took away health-care coverage from millions of Americans.
Kaiser's poll also shows many repeal proponents back away from it when they hear it would get rid of coverage for pre-existing conditions (38 percent no longer support repeal) and could strip coverage from millions (19 percent).
All of which helps to explain congressional Republicans' newly reported plan to delay full repeal of Obamacare for as much as three years — enough time, they apparently hope, to install a replacement and mitigate the negative effects of ripping off the Band-Aid.
Much remains to play out, and Republicans as a whole still clearly favor at least scaling back Obamacare. But this poll should serve notice to any GOP lawmakers who weren't aware that their political job doesn't stop at repeal. It perhaps only begins.