How do Americans feel about health care reform?

The future of health care in the U.S. might depend a lot on this upcoming election. Will reforms hurt President Obama's chances of reelection, or Mitt Romney's chances of becoming president?

Kai Ryssdal: In the Senate today the health reform law was up for a vote again. This time the requirement that contraceptives be covered. Democrats voted down a Republican challenge to it. But along with jobs and the economy, the president's health care law and a similar one in Massachusetts -- signed by former Gov. Mitt Romney -- are going to be an election undercurrent this year. So, whaddya think about that?

We talk to Frank Newport every week on the broadcast, he's the editor-in-chief of Gallup. It's a segment called Attitude Check, what's really going on in the minds of voters out there. Frank, good to talk to you again.

Frank Newport: Good to be with you.

Ryssdal: So there is health care news today about President Obama's health care reform bill; "Romneycare" -- from the state of Massachusetts while Mitt Romney was governor -- has been in the news, Newt Gingrich talked about it the other day. Question for you today is: What does it mean for those two men, should they face off in the election? Do voters care about health care and reform law?

Newport: Well they care more at this point about Obama's having been associated with the 2010 law than they do about Romney having been associated with the law when he was governor of Massachusetts -- that was a law passed in '06. In fact, only a third of voters say Romney's law -- his opponents call it "Romneycare" -- only a third says it makes a difference. And that tilts negative, driven by Republicans, about quarter of whom says it makes them less likely to vote for Romney; makes him too moderate.

For Obama, it's actually 60 percent who say it makes a difference. And it too is more negative than positive because a lot of Republicans say the law makes them less likely to vote for Obama, and there are not enough Democrats to make up for it that look at the law more positively.

Ryssdal: You mentioned how it breaks down along party lines, which is, of course, as we would expect. So let me ask among the independents -- the ground on which this general campaign will eventually be fought -- what do they think about health care reform writ large?

Newport: They tilt more negative than positive about Obama's law. For everybody putting it together, it's about a 15 point negative skew; for independents it's about a 12 point negative skew. In other words, more independents say that they're going to be less likely to vote for Obama because of his association with the law than more likely to vote for him. So even in that key group -- and you're right, they're the swing voters that everybody's going to be going after -- his health care law in 2010 tilts more negative than it does positive.

Ryssdal: What do they say about whether it was just bad policy or whether it was unconstitutional? I ask, obviously, because this case will be in the Supreme Court, I guess this month, right, March?

Newport: You know, we asked that question. Now some people say: How can you dare ask Americans, who are not lawyers, whether it's constitutional when the appeals courts don't even know -- they disagree on whether its constitutional. That's the mandate part of the law.

Ryssdal: Right -- the part that said everybody has to have health coverage, yeah?

Newport: That's right. That's how we explained it to them, we said: everybody has to have health care or pay a fine, we even put that in the question wording. But their knee-jerk reaction? Three-quarters of Americas, 76 percent, say it is unconstitutional. But you know, the Kaiser Family Foundation in California asked a similar question, and they gave an out: They said, "Or do you not know enough about it to say?" Which is probably reasonable. But they only had 28 percent who opted out, and they too found a majority whose immediate reaction was that individual mandate part of the law is unconstitutional.

Ryssdal: Yeah. As with everything in polling, it's all about how you ask the questions. Right?

Newport: Well, how you ask the questions makes a difference. No question about that. But we look at all the different wording. And out of that comes truth, Kai.

Ryssdal: There you go. Well, one hopes anyway. Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief at Gallup. The segment we do with him every week is called Attitude Check. Frank, we'll talk to you next week.

Newport: Thank you. Good to be with you.

About the author

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

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