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What do Americans think about health care reform?

A supporter of recent health care reform holds a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court March 27, 2012 in Washington, D.C. The Supreme Court is about to hand down its decision on the health care reform bill. Gallup's Frank Newport reveals what Americans think.

Sarah Gardner: Any day now, the Supreme Court will rule on President Obama's health care overhaul -- "Obamacare" as dubbed by its critics. The court may strike down the whole thing or just parts of the new law. Whatever happens, some big health insurers have already said they're gonna keep up some of the reforms in the Affordable Healthcare Act. Question is, what do the people think of it?

Time now for Attitude Check. Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief of Gallup. Frank, welcome back.

Frank Newport: Good to be with you.

Gardner: Not that we are in the business of competing with you on polling, but we talked to some folks in downtown L.A. about the health care law today, and we wondered if this woman's response was typical or not. Just take a listen.

Woman: I do not support Obamacare because of the poor people who have no money to keep with the food is obligated to buy the health insurance.

OK, you heard that. She obviously hates the health care bill. Now, what do most Americans think?

Newport: The fact that she did not like the health care bill does in fact correspond with what almost all the recent polling shows, which is that Americans, when asked about it, felt more negative than positive. The whole idea about the poor, low-income people is kind of interesting because, yes, one of the reasons people object is the individual mandate, which is at the core of the Supreme Court decision.

Gardner: Right, and the individual mandate being that people will be forced to buy insurance or pay a penalty, right?

Newport: That's right, and in fact, that is the most negative thing of all. We had seven out of 10 Americans who said it was unconstitutional in their opinion. So if they were on the Supreme Court, they would vote that part of the health care act down.

Gardner: Of course it's a complicated bill, right Frank? I mean, there are a lot of changes in it. Did you get the feeling that people understand the whole thing, that they know what's in it, besides this individual mandate?

Newport: A couple of polls actually asked people: Do you think you understand this well enough to have an opinion? And at least a majority self-report that they do. But of course in politics, in a representative democracy, you don't have to demonstrate that you're highly conversant with an issue to have an opinion on it.

Gardner: Right, you don't make people take a test, Frank, before you poll them.

Newport: We don't, and that's an interesting issue in polling, because some people say we should. But you know, you don't have to take a test to vote, and the whole essence of a democracy like a jury is that you don't have to pass a knowledge test, that your opinions, wherever you are in our American spectrum, should count.

Gardner: I'm wondering, too, when you took this poll, do you know whether most of these people who you polled have health insurance?

Newport: Well, we asked that question. Most Americans do have health insurance, and with that taken into account, they still feel more negative than positive.

Gardner: I'm wondering though how this is going to affect the presidential election. And here's just a snippet of what we found on the streets of Washington, D.C., today.

I think there are probably stronger issues with the election. I definitely think it's important, but it probably wouldn't be enough to sway my vote.

Frank, what did you find?

Newport: I think that that's very representative of what we find from the American public. In fact, we just recently asked Americans who said they're going to vote for Obama or Romney: Why, in your own words? And a relatively small percent of voters on either side mentioned health care as the issue that was driving their vote.

Gardner: Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief at Gallup. The segment we do with them every week is called Attitude Check. Frank, thanks a lot.

Newport: My pleasure.

About the author

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

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