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Americans’ Divergent Views on Obamacare and Government-Provided Health Insurance
Joseph Goodman,

On October 1, the Obama administration began to roll out key elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. A new health insurance exchange marketplace, healthcare.gov, was launched and officials reported that within hours, millions of Americans visited the site. The rollout came just one day after the first shutdown of the federal government in 17 years. Part of the reason sections of the government remain shuttered is because of Republican lawmakers’ efforts to rekindle a debate over implementation of the Affordable Care Act and Democrats’ refusal to negotiate on health care while the government remains shut down.

That Republicans and Democrats disagree over the new health care law reflects a broader split among the American people on the law. According to PRRI’s research, Americans themselves are equally split over whether or not to repeal and eliminate Obamacare: 42 percent are in favor of repeal, with 42 percent in opposition. Additionally, this sharp division runs along party lines: 6-in-10 (60 percent) Republicans favor repealing the law and 28 percent oppose repeal. Meanwhile, nearly 6-in-10 (57 percent) Democrats oppose repeal while 28 percent are in favor, a mirror image of Republicans. So the reasoning behind Democrats’ and Republicans’ unwillingness to cut a deal over the short-term government budget seems clear: both parties believe they are representing the interests of the American people.

Though Americans’ views on Obamacare are evenly split, most would be in favor of the federal government guaranteeing health insurance for citizens. Though the ACA does not accomplish this directly, one of its central goals is making health care accessible for Americans of all income levels—the next closest thing to guaranteeing insurance. A majority (56 percent) of Americans are in favor of government guaranteeing health insurance, while 44 percent disagree with this proposition.

Citizens’ views on these two questions – whether or not to repeal the ACA, and whether or not government should guarantee health insurance – are also divided along religious lines. White evangelicals (57 percent) and white mainline Protestants (45 percent) are most likely to favor repealing Obamacare, while the religiously unaffiliated (50 percent) and those who adhere to non-Christian religions (44 percent) are opposed. Catholics are evenly split, with 43 percent in favor of repeal and 43 in opposition. These numbers match up with each religious group’s view on whether government should guarantee health insurance: two-thirds (67 percent) of unaffiliated Americans agree government should guarantee health coverage, while nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of white evangelicals and almost 6-in-10 (58 percent) white mainline Protestants disagree.

While respondents were asked to either agree or disagree with the statement that the 2010 health care law should be repealed and eliminated, 17 percent of all Americans either didn’t know or refused to answer, reflecting ongoing confusion related to the Affordable Care Act. (Of course, some Americans are confused on much more than just the law’s fine print.)

Although a majority of Americans would be in favor of guaranteed health insurance – which the ACA will compel millions of additional citizens to get – views on the ACA are sharply divided. The takeaway may be that the government needs to do a better job of educating the public on what Obamacare entails if it intends the program to be a success.