March 18, 2010

Gloomy Americans Bash Congress, Are Divided on Obama

Section 3: Views of Health Care Legislation

Public views of the health care bills being discussed in Congress have remained quite stable over the past few months. As has been the case since last July, there is more opposition than support for these proposals. Currently, 48% say they generally oppose the health care bills in Congress while 38% say they generally favor them. That is almost identical to the balance of opinion in February and January.

When opponents are asked about what they prefer Congress to do, somewhat more (28% of the public) say they would prefer that Congress begin working on a new bill rather than pass nothing and leave the current system as it is (18% of the public).

As has been the case since last summer, there are wide partisan divisions in opinions about health care legislation. Republicans continue to overwhelmingly oppose the health care bills in Congress (by 81% to 13%) while Democrats favor the measures by a smaller margin (62% to 22%). A majority of independents (56%) generally oppose the bills while 32% generally favor them. The balance of opinion within all three partisan groups is largely unchanged in recent months.

A 42% plurality of Republicans would prefer that Congress begin working on new health care legislation, while 35% would prefer that Congress pass nothing and leave the current system as it is. Looking specifically at conservative Republicans, 85% of whom oppose the health legislation, preferences are divided almost evenly – 42% want to see new legislation started, while 39% would prefer that Congress pass nothing and leave the system as it is.

Regardless, Most See Their Health Costs Rising

About half of Americans (51%) say that if the health care bills in Congress become law, they expect their own health care costs would go up in coming years; nearly a third (32%) say their health costs would go up a lot. Fewer than one-in-five (17%) say their health costs would go down if the legislation passes, while 22% say they expect their costs would stay the same.

But the public’s predictions about future health care costs are even more negative if no changes are made to the health care system: 63% say their own costs would go up in coming years, while 37% say they would go up a lot. Just 6% see their future costs decreasing if the status quo continues, while 25% say they would stay the same.

Opponents of the current bills overwhelmingly believe that passage of health care legislation will raise their own health costs in coming years: 71% expect their costs would go up with 52% saying they would go up a lot. But a sizeable majority of those who generally oppose the health care bills in Congress (62%) say they expect their future health care costs would rise if no changes are made in the health care system; however, far fewer (32%) say their costs would increase a lot under this scenario than if the bill passes.

Those who generally favor the health care bills being discussed in Congress mostly say they expect their costs to stay the s
ame (36%) or decrease (31%) if the legislation passes; just 27% expect their health costs to rise in coming years. Two-thirds (67%) of supporters of health care legislation say their costs would rise in coming years if no changes are made in the system; 46% say their costs would increase a lot if the status quo continues.

Health Care Opinions Stable

As has consistently been the case over the past nine months, support and opposition to the health care bills before Congress divide along partisan lines. Even within the political parties, there are only modest differences of opinion between the more conservative and more liberal wings. Seven-in-ten (70%) liberal Democrats back health reform, compared with 61% of moderate and conservative Democrats. Last July, the margin among Democrats was only slightly wider, 74% of liberals and 57% of moderates and conservatives backed the bills.

Since last July, younger Americans repeatedly offered more support for the health bills in Congress than older Americans. Currently, 41% of 18 to 29-year- olds back the bill, compared with 34% of people age 65 and over. This is little changed from the 44% to 29% difference of opinion last July, and tracking opinions over the past nine months (see chart next page) shows little substantial variation over time.

Similarly, there is modestly greater support for the legislation among the roughly one-in-five Americans who are currently without health insurance. Currently, the uninsured favor the bills by a 48% to 37% margin, while Americans with coverage oppose it by a 51% to 36% margin. Again, these opinions are little changed over the course of the past nine months.

Gender, education and income have never been highly significant factors in views of the health care legislation. Across most polls, lower income Americans backed the bill by slightly higher margins than upper income Americans. Currently 45% of people with family incomes under $30,000 support the bills, compared with 39% of people earning $75,000 or more. This is consistent with previous polling; last July, the gap between low and high income support was 44% vs. 35%.