The president's health-care plan is getting it from all sides. Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images
The president's health-care plan is getting it from all sides. Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Catch goes to Mark Blumenthal, who clears up a polling question that’s been around for some time: What does it mean when polls find people who say they don’t like the Affordable Care Act but want a more liberal health insurance program? Liberals have at times used that polling result, found in several different surveys, to argue that Obamacare isn’t unpopular, and that the pluralities opposing it are reduced or disappear if the “doesn’t go far enough” group is added to ACA supporters. But how real is that group?

Blumenthal tested it with a HuffPost/YouGov poll, and it turns out there’s a lot less there than meets the eye:

HuffPost asked a simple open-ended follow-up question of the not-liberal-enough respondents: "In your own words, what do you mean when you say the health care law is not liberal enough?" Contrary to what many political observers have assumed, very few said they opposed the law because they would prefer a "single payer" system (6 percent of those answering) or would prefer either the "public option" or an alternative to ensure "healthcare for all" (4 percent). This sliver of ACA opponents amounted to just under 1 percent of all adults in the YouGov surveys.

The other open-ended answers were pretty much in line with those of other Obamacare opponents. Moreover, the “not liberal enough” crowd split about evenly between those who want government to be more, less, or equally involved in health care. This isn’t a group of socialists unhappy with weak reforms. It's more likely that these are low-information Americans who aren’t using terms such as “liberal” the way those more involved in politics do.

Blumenthal concludes: “The majorities who have formed a negative impression of the law are real, even allowing for a low single-digit percentage who would prefer a single-payer system or a government-run public option.”

The liberal argument that the ACA is popular if one includes those who dislike it because it doesn’t go far enough turns out to be wrong. As Blumenthal notes, however, that doesn’t mean liberals have to concede that Obamacare is flat-out unpopular or that it will necessarily be an electoral burden for Democrats. Many individual components of the law do well in polls, and even some of the costs (other than the individual mandate) score well, too. And, as Blumenthal says, flat-out repeal – the Republican position – polls very badly, and even repeal-and-replace isn't a crowd-pleaser.

So there’s still a fair amount of complexity to the question of the ACA's popularity. But to the extent that we’re interested in the simple question of how Obamacare (or the ACA) polls, the answer is clear: not well.

And: Great catch!

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net