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Support Slips For Health Reform Law, New KFF Poll Shows

Aug 31, 2010

Public support for the health overhaul declined in August, a development sure to stir concerns among the Obama administration and congressional Democrats seeking to shore up support for the law in the months leading up to the mid-term elections.

The latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that 43 percent of Americans viewed the law favorably – down from 50 percent in July – while 45 percent held unfavorable views. (Kaiser Health News is a program of the foundation.) That means public opinion is back to where it was in May, despite months of effort by the administration to talk up the benefits of the new law.

But before Republicans rejoice, they might look at another part of the poll, which found that the likely impact of the law on the November elections hasn't changed much in recent months, despite spirited attacks on the law. Registered voters remain split in three roughly equally-sized groups: voters likely to oppose a candidate who supported the law; those likely to support a candidate who backed the law, and those who say their vote won't be affected one way or the other.

"Public opinion on health reform has been stuck in a fairly narrow band and is not changing dramatically," said Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation. He added that it's not clear whether the law will play a significant role in the election, considering the public's overriding concerns about the troubled economy and unemployment.

Indeed, asked to name the two issues they hope to hear about from congressional candidates, voters most often mentioned the economy, with health care coming in a distant second. The third issue was immigration.

Not surprisingly, there continues to be a sharp partisan divide on the health care issue, with 68 percent of Democrats supporting the law and 77 percent of Republicans opposing it. But Republicans have an edge in intensity: 62 percent feel "very" unfavorably toward the bill, compared to 33% of Democrats who feel "very" favorably, according to the poll.

Some parts of the law are more popular than others, the poll showed. For example, about three-quarters of Americans support providing subsidies to low- and moderate-income Americans to buy coverage, while 70 percent look unfavorably on the requirement – known as the individual mandate -- that nearly all Americans buy health insurance or pay a fine.

The survey was conducted Aug. 16 through Aug. 22, among a national representative random sample of 1,203 adults, most of whom said they are registered to vote. The margin of sampling error for the total sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points, although the margin of sample error may be higher for results based on subgroups.

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