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Americans split in opinion on health care

People participate in a protest on the second day of oral arguments for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building on March 27, 2012 in Washington, D.C. According to Gallup, a majority of Americans don't anticipate many positive changes to come with the Affordable Care Act. Support for health care reform roughly tracks the same numbers as President Obama's approval ratings.

Kai Ryssdal: See now, look at this: We're halfway through the broadcast and only just now mentioning the health care law. It's been three days worth of legal arguments, analysis and ex post facto what ifs.

What we haven't heard much of, though, is what Americans really think about the law and the individual mandate and what ought to happen.

Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief of Gallup. He's here every week for a little Attitude Check. Frank, good to talk to you again.

Frank Newport: Good to be with you, Kai.

Ryssdal: Let's start with a little ground truth here: Americans were split two years ago when this law was signed; we are, I'm presuming, still fairly split on this thing?

Newport: That's right. A lot of polling, a lot of people ask about the P.P.A.C.A. in different ways.

Ryssdal: That would be the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, for those who couldn't follow the acronym.

Newport: That's correct. Actually, nobody who asked about it actually reads all that out, but people describe it in different ways. That's right -- our last poll at Gallup and other polls show it breaks even, or actually tilts negative. I haven't seen any polls that actually show, say, a majority of Americans who support the health care act.

Ryssdal: When you ask them, have they seen an impact in their lives yet? Granting that a lot of provisions don't get kick in until 2014, as we see.

Newport: We have Americans say no, perhaps rationally so. You've got about 10 percent who say, oh yeah, I've gotten better as a result of this, something about my health care's gotten better. Roughly the same percent say something's gotten worse. But the majority of Americans have seen no impact. Personally, I haven't for my family. At least the majority don't anticipate a lot of positive effect in the future either.

Ryssdal: And that goes along with something else in your surveys, right, that something like seven out of 10 Americans are generally satisfied with the state of their health care?

Newport: That's what we find. Health care is not personally a major issue to a lot of Americans, as you said last time we tracked this. Of course, a lot of this act is not intended to help the average American -- it's intended to help the uninsured or say 18- to 25-year-olds and other small groups like that on a relative basis. But overall, Americans don't say that health care is their biggest personal issue.

Ryssdal: Acknowledging that Americans by and large are not constitutional scholars, what do they think about the Supreme Court and whether the Supreme Court ought to just chuck this thing and strike the whole individual mandate down?

Newport: Yeah, you and I are two of the few who have read all 2,000-plus pages right?

Ryssdal: That's right, yeah.

Newport: But yeah, seven out of 10 Americans, when asked, say that the Supreme Court should strike down the individual mandate part of the bill, not at all a popular provision of the Affordable Care Act.

Ryssdal: What about expectation of future return, you know, a lot of the provisions in this thing don't kick in until 2014 -- do people expect the health care situation in this country, the health insurance situation, to get better when it finally does kick in?

Newport: Very mixed picture. You've got a third of Americans, roughly, who'll say yeah, I think things will get better, but about as many or even more say things will get worse, and a lot say it will make no difference.

Ryssdal: Just to sum up here, it seems like we really can't make up our minds how we feel about this thing. We're split on it overall, we don't like parts of it, we like parts of it.

Newport: And I think, Kai, a lot of the reason for that is this is a political act. Remember, now even the Obama administration calls it Obamacare, so it's highly identified with Obama. Most Americans who have not read the act, they don't what's in it really, so they're reacting to President Obama. He's got a job approval rating in the 40 percent, the high 40 percent range. And it's roughly that many people that approve of the act.

Ryssdal: That's actually a great insight -- approval of this thing tracks with the president's approval ratings?

Newport: That's right, roughly speaking.

Ryssdal: That's amazing. Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief at Gallup. The segment we do with them every week is called Attitude Check. Frank, until next week.

Newport: Great, thank you.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.

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