Opposition to President Obama’s health care law jumped after he signed it - a warning to Democrats running for re-election this fall that his victory could become their liability.
A new Associated Press-GfK poll found that Americans now oppose the health care overhaul plan 50 percent to 39 percent. Before a divided Congress finally passed the bill and Mr. Obama signed it at a jubilant White House ceremony last month, public opinion was about evenly split. Another 10 percent of Americans said they are neutral on the plan.
Disapproval for Mr. Obama’s handling of health care also increased from 46 percent before the bill passed to 52 percent currently - a level not seen since last summer’s angry town hall meetings.
Nonetheless, the bleak numbers may not represent a final judgment for the president and his Democratic allies in Congress. That’s because only 28 percent of those polled said they understand the overhaul extremely or very well, and a big chunk of those remain neutral.
“There are some things I like, because I think that there are some people who need health care,” said Jim Fall, 73, a retired computer consultant from Wrightwood, Calif.
But “I don’t like the idea of the government dictating what health care should be like,” added Mr. Fall. “Nor do I like them taking money out of Medicare.”
Seniors - reliable voters in midterm congressional races - were far more likely to oppose the law. Forty-nine percent of seniors polled were strongly opposed, compared with 37 percent of those 64 and younger. Seniors’ worries that Medicare cuts to insurers, hospitals and other providers will undermine their care could prove a formidable challenge for Democratic congressional candidates this fall.
Analysts said such persistent wariness on a major piece of social legislation is unusual.
“The surprise of this poll is that you would expect people to be more supportive of the bill now that it’s the law of the land - and that’s not the case,” said Robert Blendon, a Harvard public health professor who follows opinion trends on health care.
The nearly $1 trillion, 10-year health care remake would provide coverage to almost all Americans while also attempting to improve quality and slow the ruinous pace of rising medical costs.
Nonpartisan congressional budget analysts say the law is fully paid for and will not increase the federal deficit. Its mix of Medicare cuts and tax increases, falling mainly on upper-income earners, would actually reduce the deficit, according to current projections. And people covered by large employers may even see a dip in their premiums.
But the public doesn’t seem to be buying it.
Fifty-seven percent said they expect to pay more for their own health care, contrasted with 7 percent who expect to pay less. And 47 percent said they expect their own medical care to get worse, compared with 14 percent looking forward to an improvement.
“Based on the little information we know, somebody’s going to have to pay for it, so it makes sense that taxes would go up,” said Lang Fu, 48, an oil and gas engineer from Houston.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted April 7-12, 2010, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media. It involved interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide by telephone. It had a margin of sampling error of 4.3 percentage points.