What Americans really think of Obamacare

An enrollment specialist helps a client sign up with a health plan at a recent event at Pasadena City College.
(David McNew/AFP Getty)

The data from the latest CNN opinion poll, conducted Nov. 18-20, suggest that Americans are far more sophisticated about the Affordable Care Act, glitches and all, than the Republican and Democratic parties alike have given them credit for. The poll results are here; crunch the raw numbers as you wish.

Released on the eve of the reboot of the federal government’s enrollment website,, the survey indicates that 54% of Americans favor the law or think it should have gone further. That figure has held remarkably steady, with the occasional surge or crater, virtually since its passage in 2010. What’s been shrinking lately is the proportion of respondents with no opinion, down to a mere 5% over the last two months.

Most important, Americans are willing to give the law a chance to work, and on balance confident that it will work. The pockets of greatest strength for the law are non-whites and--happily--those aged 18-34. Asked whether they think the law is a success or failure, 39% called it a failure, but 53% said it’s too soon to tell.


The first finding is unsurprising, because minorities are overrepresented among Americans the Affordable Care Act is designed to help most, the uninsured. Of non-white respondents, 60% favored the law and 18% felt that it doesn’t go far enough (“not liberal enough” is the poll’s unfortunate wording).

The breakdown by age is gratifying because participation by young persons is crucial if the cost-sharing aspects of expanded insurance coverage are to be achieved: younger and healthier enrollees subsidize their older and sicker neighbors, on average, until they themselves become older and sicker, something that befalls us all. In that age group, 48% favor the law and 12% think it should go further. The 60% total is the highest of any age cohort. Younger respondents are also the most confidence that “the current problems facing the health care law” will be solved: 71%. But more than half of all respondents (54%) think so.

As for the partisan breakdown, not many surprises there. Self-identified Republicans are deeply negative, 87%-12%. Their Democratic neighbors deeply supportive, 71%-26%. That tells you that the Republican Party’s unrelenting attack on the law both reflects and feeds the mind-set of its base. It also suggests that Democratic politicians should be rather more supportive of the Affordable Care Act than they have been.