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Poll Suggests Unpopular Individual Mandate Hurts Health Care Reform’s Popularity

Health care reform has steadily decreased in popularity since its passage. The Kaiser tracking poll (PDF) has generally had most positive numbers for health care reform, but even this poll now shows the law losing support. In August they found only 43% held a favorable opinion of the new law while 45% viewed it unfavorably. This is a significant drop since July (50% favorable – 35% unfavorable) and May (48% favorable – 35% unfavorable).

There was serious effort on the part of the Obama administration, Democratic leadership and some left-leaning writers to convince people the highly-debated bill would magically become popular simply because it was signed into a law. Clearly this has not been the case as the polling data reveals.

Some provisions are popular while others are highly unpopular. At 75%, a large majority of voters hold a favorable opinion of federal subsidies to help people afford buying health insurance. And at 71%, an almost equally large majority favors expanding Medicaid, the government-run health care program for low-income Americans. Sentiment is nearly evenly divided on the employer mandate (52% favorable – 47% unfavorable) but the American people are firmly against the individual mandate. Not only do a full 80% of all voters have an unfavorable view of the individual mandate but a majority of voters (52%) has a very unfavorable opinion of the provision.

The poll indicates that the overwhelming 71% of voters who favored Missouri’s anti-individual mandate Proposition C during the primary was not a fluke produced by contested Republican races. The individual mandate is deeply and extremely unpopular. Why Democrats fought so hard to include this provision which could have been replaced by far less objectionable alternatives is beyond comprehension. It seems even putting all the currently uninsured on Medicaid would likely have been a much more popular option. Using the IRS to force Americans to buy a product from one of the most unpopular industries in America is so clearly a terrible idea that Democratic congressional candidates in contested races should think about suing the White House and their leadership for gross political malpractice. (If only some progressive blog had warned them about how unpopular the individual mandate would be without a public option.)

The “good” news for Democrats is that the health care law itself might not have a huge impact on this upcoming general election. The poll found health care reform is only the third most important issue behind the economy and dissatisfaction with the government. Voters are much more concerned about other policy areas, but those are areas where they also think Democrats have failed. While 30% of those polled said they would be more likely to vote a member of Congress that voted for health care reform and 33% said they would be less likely, many of these are likely die-hard partisans who wouldn’t have crossed party lines anyhow.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at