The polls on health care reform has always been a little confusing, in no small part because the respondents often say such confusing things. People want change but they want to keep their insurance. They want a universal coverage system based on private coverage but they don't want an individual mandate. They want to cut health care costs but they don't like actual cuts. And so on.
Still, a pattern has emerged over the last few weeks. Greg Sargent, who has been following this for a while, seizes on the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll to explain:
The pollsters first asked people whether they support the law, and found that 45 percent back it, while 55 percent oppose it. That 55 percent against it were then offered a range of options as to what they would prefer be done. The breakdown:
Repeal all of it: 18
Repeal parts of it: 19
Wait and see: 17
Less than one in five support full repeal. And this mirrors other examples of the nuanced polling we've seen. The Associated Press released a poll this weekend finding that 43 percent want the law changed so it does more, versus only 26 percent who want it fully repealed. A Marist poll last week found the same, with 35 percent wanting the law expanded versus 30 percent who want it scrapped completely.
Now contrast that with how people respond when they are only offered a choice between full repeal, and keeping the law as it is. Quinnipiac found yesterday that people favor repeal over letting the health bill stand, 48-43. CNN also found that people want full repeal by 50-42. And MSNBC a few moments ago flashed some similar NBC polling that found the public exactly split, with 46 percent favoring repeal and 45 percent wanting to keep it as is.
When pollsters ask, straight up, whether people want to repeal the health care law or keep it, respondents are divided with slightly more favoring repeal than opposing it. But it turns out that a significant portion of the people who want to repeal the law would like to replace it with a bigger, stronger program. And when pollsters make clear that repealing the law means repealing the whole thing, including the benefits, support for repeal falls.
This isn't exactly good news for those of us who supported the Affordable Care Act and believed it would, by now, be more popular. But it's certainly not good news for the Republicans who want to get rid of the bill altogether.
I have no doubt that many voters remain confused and that, as this debate goes on, public opinion could shift. But for the moment, at least, enthusiasm for blowing up the bill seems to be a lot lower than the headlines suggest.