The partisan split over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
at the center of the budget impasse that shut down the federal government last week reflects sharp divisions in the public's view of the law. But public opinion surveys show that most Americans, even those who oppose the healthcare reform law, disapprove of shutting down the government to stop healthcare reform
Polls conducted last month, before the public health insurance exchanges
opened for enrollment Oct. 1, continued to show that more Americans have a negative opinion of the law than a positive one. Of the 1,503 adults surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation for its Health Tracking Poll in mid-September, 43% expressed an unfavorable view of the 2010 law. A New York Times/CBS News poll from Sept. 19-23 indicated that 51% of Americans disapprove of the law.
There were no polls available last week to indicate whether views of the law have changed since the exchanges opened. Unexpectedly high traffic to the exchange websites and call centers showed more initial public interest than expected, but technical difficulties and delays in accessing the sites and call centers could have soured some people.
But disapproval of the law doesn't necessarily mean opposition to healthcare reform or expanding insurance coverage. While 39% told CNN/ORC pollsters last month that they're against the legislation because it's too liberal, 11% thought the ACA is not liberal enough. The September National Healthcare Tracking Poll published by digital media company The Morning Consult found that 13% of those surveyed said Congress should expand the law.
Americans overwhelmingly agree on their disapproval of shutting down the government to block the reform law. A poll from Quinnipiac University released last Tuesday, the first day of the law's implementation and the first day of the government shutdown, found that 72% of voters opposed this tactic.
“Americans are certainly not in love with Obamacare, but they reject decisively the claim by congressional Republicans that it is so bad that it's worth closing down the government to stop it,” Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a news release.
Two days later, CBS News reported the same disapproval rating in its poll conducted during the first two days of the shutdown.
Americans tended to blame Republicans more than Democrats for the budget impasse. Before the shutdown went into effect, CNN/ORC asked if President Barack Obama, congressional Democrats and the congressional Republicans had acted like responsible adults or spoiled children during the federal budget debate. Nearly seven out of 10 thought the Republicans had behaved liked spoiled children, 58% thought the congressional Democrats had, and 47% thought Obama had.
As the shutdown continued last week, Republicans continued to get more of the blame. The CBS News poll conducted last Tuesday and Wednesday found that 44% of those surveyed blamed congressional Republicans and 35% blamed Obama and the Democrats. Still, most people said that both sides should compromise to reach a resolution. Of the 1,021 adults contacted for the CBS News poll, 78% said congressional Republicans should bend while 76% said Obama and congressional Democrats should do so.
Meanwhile, public awareness of the reform law's key features has remained at a consistently low level since the law passed in 2010. The Kaiser tracking poll found that only slightly more than half the uninsured Americans surveyed in mid-September were aware of the insurance premium subsidies, guaranteed issue of insurance regardless of preexisting conditions, and the Medicaid expansion to adults up to 138% of the federal poverty level.