By Byron York
Democrats have long believed Obamacare would become more popular once it was fully in place and Americans got a chance to see it up close. So why is Obamacare less popular now than a few months ago? Because it is fully in place and Americans have had a chance to see it up close.
According to new polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has closely tracked Obamacare for years, 37 percent of those surveyed have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act, while 53 percent have an unfavorable view. That's an eight-percentage-point jump in unfavorability over last month, and a two-point drop in favorability over the same time.
Why the shift? It's not because millions of Americans have suddenly become conservative Republicans. Kaiser found that disapproval of Obamacare has risen across the board. Among Democrats, for example, the law's unfavorable rating jumped six points in July, while its favorable rating fell four points. A similar thing happened among independents and -- it hardly seemed possible -- among Republicans who already hated the law.
Obamacare's unfavorables also rose among all income groups -- people who make less than $40,000 a year, those who make between $40,000 and $90,000 a year, and those who make more than $90,000. The same among all age groups. And the same for race and ethnicity: Disapproval rose among whites, blacks, and Hispanics.
Rather than a shift among some identifiable group, Obamacare's rising unpopularity seems to be a product of the simple fact that, several months into its implementation, more and more people are having personal experience with the law.
Kaiser asked respondents, "So far, would you say the health care law has directly helped you and your family, directly hurt you and your family, or has it not had a direct impact?" Fifteen percent said Obamacare has directly helped them, while 28 percent said it has directly hurt them, and 56 percent said it has had no effect.
The number who said Obamacare helped them ticked up one point in the last two months, while the number who said Obamacare hurt them went up four points. And the number who were not affected went down four points. That suggests Obamacare is directly touching more and more people -- and hurting more than it helps.
Another bit of evidence supporting that conclusion came in the June poll from Kaiser, in which researchers asked, "Is your impression of the health care law based mainly on your own experience, what you've seen and heard on television, radio, and in newspapers, what you've learned from friends and family, or some other source?" The number of people who say their opinion of Obamacare is based on their personal experience is rising -- 23 percent in February of this year, 26 percent in June. The number who say their opinion is shaped by what they've learned from friends and family is also growing -- 18 percent in February, 22 percent in June. And the number who say their opinion is based on what they see in the media is shrinking: 44 percent in February, 37 percent in June.
So more and more, people are basing their opinion of Obamacare on their own experience of those around them, and not on what they've seen on cable TV or heard on talk radio. And disapproval is going up.
A majority of the people who said Obamacare has directly helped them said its prime benefit was greater access to health coverage and care. A majority of those who said Obamacare has directly hurt them said its main effect was to increase their health costs.
Overall, the numbers reflect Obamacare's design; it was intended to offer taxpayer-subsidized health coverage to a relatively small group of people (the roughly 15 percent of the population that had no health coverage) by imposing costs on the far larger group who had coverage and were satisfied with it. Given that, it's not surprising more people report a negative than positive Obamacare experience.
What is unclear is how those experiences will affect November's midterms. Democrats have veered between fearing that Obamacare will spell complete disaster, to hoping it might actually be a benefit, to assuming it will be a negative, but maybe not by much.
The answer will depend on those people who say they've been hurt by Obamacare. Will that experience determine their vote? Or will they view their own problems as negligible and base their vote on something else? Democrats have a lot riding on the answer.