The Difference Between Obamacare and ACA Is Public Opinion


Like many polls before it, CNBC’s third-quarter All-America Economic Survey revealed some hard truths about the Affordable Care Act.

Depending on whether the official name of the health care reform law or its epithet, Obamacare, is used to refer to the Affordable Care Act significantly affects how the American public responds. CNBC asked half of its 812 respondents if they support Obamacare and the other half if they support the Affordable Care Act. The results showed that 30 percent of the public do not know what the Affordable Care Act is while only 12 percent do not know what Obamacare is.

While the Obamacare moniker was originally intended as a negative reference to the health care law, the term was also embraced by supports of the reform. Regardless of its origin, the term not only increased the public profile of the Affordable Care Act, as CNBC’s numbers show, but it also contributed to the partisan nature of support for the reform.

The use of Obamacare in poll questions, rather than the Affordable Care Act, changes the number of positive and negative responses. The All-America Economic survey showed that 29 percent of the public supports Obamacare, compared to 22 percent who support the Affordable Care Act. Similarly, 46 percent of respondents said they oppose Obamacare and 37 percent oppose the Affordable Care Act.

Unsurprisingly, the results of the survey revealed that differences in opinion fell along both gender and partisan lines: men, independents, and Republicans expressed more negativity on Obamacare than the Affordable Care Act, while young people, Democrats, nonwhites, and women were more positive on Obamacare.

CNBC’s All-America survey also questioned respondents on whether they believe that funding should be cut for health care reform, finding that a plurality of Americans are against defunding the reform. Furthermore, respondents’ opposition increased when asked if they supported defunding it at the cost of a government shutdown.

That response may seem surprising since more respondents expressed opposition to the reform regardless of terminology than support for it. However, Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who conducts the survey for CNBC in conjunction with Democratic pollster Peter Hart, said that Americans may be trying to say that whether or not they support the law, it should be not be defunded because “It’s the law of the land.”

This poll’s results have been affirmed in several other surveys.

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Data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation in its August 2013 Health Tracking Poll showed that roughly four in 10 Americans, 44 percent, either think the Affordable Care Act has been repealed by Congress or overturned by the Supreme Court, or say they do not know whether it remains law, which was the answer of 31 percent of respondents.

Just 22 percent of adults ages 18 to 64 had heard “a lot” or “some” about the insurance exchanges. For context, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives launched approximately 40 attempts to repeal or defund all or parts of the law, and the Supreme Court upheld the law by a 5-to-4 decision in June 2012.

With such a large percentage of Americans unsure about the legal status of the reform, it follows that slightly more than half of the American public, 51 percent, say they do not have enough information about the law to understand how it will impact themselves and their families. This percentage has remained largely unchanged since 2010.

Two recent surveys — released just more than two weeks before the key provision of Obamacare, the insurance exchanges, opens October 1 — produced a similar narrative. More Americans hold a negative opinion of the legislation than a positive one, a good number of Americans are unsure how the law will affect them, and support for the legislation is quite partisan.

In terms of support, a survey conducted by The Wall Street Journal in conjunction with NBC News found that 54 percent of respondents thought health care reform was a bad idea, while 31 percent said it was a good idea, a figure virtually unchanged from the July survey. Similarly, 53 percent told Pew Research and USA Today that they disapproved of the law, and 42 percent said they approved.

That compares to the 47 percent who approved of the legislation and 43 percent who disapproved of it in July 2012, shortly after the Supreme Court upheld most provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Interestingly, Pew found more intense opposition than support for Obamacare, with 41 percent strongly disapproving it and 26 percent strongly approving it.

The political rhetoric in Washington has undoubtedly played a role educating constituents or coloring their opinions, and the fact that support or opposition increases when the title of Obamacare is used, instead of the Affordable Care Act, is evidence of that reality.

Follow Meghan on Twitter @MFoley_WSCS

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