As Congress comes closer to repealing Obamacare, proponents of the law have mounted a vocal defense of it, touting both its necessity and popularity among those it has helped.
But public opinion polls tell a different story.
Obamacare was passed in 2010 amid controversy, and has not done very well since. Because some of its provisions polled well, many expected that as the law was implemented over time it would become more popular, similar to Social Security and Medicare.
The Atlantic, for instance, reported on Oct. 10, 2013 that a poll of Democratic political insiders showed that 98 percent thought Obamacare would become more popular once it was implemented.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on “Meet the Press” on Mar. 28, 2010, just days after the law was signed by President Barack Obama:
I think as people learn about the bill, and now that the bill is enacted, it’s going to become more and more popular … So I predict, by November those who voted for health care will find it an asset, those who voted against it will find it a liability.
Yet despite recurring optimistic predictions, Obamacare has remained persistently unpopular. Disapproval of the law has consistently outweighed approval, sometimes by margins as large as 20 points.
The polling data show us that Obamacare has been unpopular. They can also shed light on why.
The Pew Research Center finds that as time goes on, more people report being personally affected by Obamacare—as would be expected for any new government program.
However, Americans reporting they have been negatively affected is higher than those who say they have been positively affected.
Similarly, Gallup’s regular polling also consistently found that more Americans said the law has hurt them and their families than say it has helped, sometimes by a margin of 2-to-1.
Over the second half of 2016, that margin widened. Twenty-nine percent of Americans said they had been hurt by it, an increase from 26 percent earlier in the year. Only 18 percent said they had been helped, down from 22 percent, for a full 11-point margin.
In comparison, when Pew asked about “the health care law’s effect on you and your family,” negative responses outweighed positive responses 31 percent to 23 percent—a 9-point margin.
Quality of care, access, and soaring costs usually top the list of issues and concerns Americans have with Obamacare.
According to another study by Gallup, those rating their health care coverage as excellent decreased 5 points in 2015 from 30 percent to 25 percent, while those who rated their coverage “only fair” climbed. Those rating the quality of health care they receive as excellent dropped 8 points over the same time period, from 39 percent to 31 percent.
Those paying some or all of their health premiums increasingly say their premiums have gone up (74 percent in 2015, up from 67 percent in 2014).
Despite promises that Obamacare would help make health care more affordable, 67 percent of Americans in a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll conducted in December 2016 still say lowering the cost of health care should be a top priority for President Donald Trump and Congress.
In short, as more Americans personally experienced Obamacare, more of them expressed dissatisfaction with its results. That strengthens the Republicans’ case for repealing and replacing the law.