American opinion on the Supreme Court and the Affordable Care Act

It’s always a pleasant morning when I see the Kaiser Health Tracking poll in my e-mail. I don’t know what I’d do without the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), so thank you KFF. This survey is for January and includes a few new questions concerning the upcoming Supreme Court case over the Affordable Care Act.

They start off by asking people for their analysis on the SCOTUS decision-making process and how that relates to the ACA’s individual mandate:

My initial reaction to the first question was one of those exhausted sighs that I’m apparently well-known for, but in retrospect it shouldn’t be surprising. Most people probably don’t understand that ideology is something that is always a part of our decision-making process. In the case of judges, especially Supreme Court judges, I think it’s more relevant to assess their legal ideological preferences. Such a thing is, obviously, related to personal and political ideologies. Yet what I’m trying to say is that it’s not imminently apparent to me that “Sometimes let own ideological views influence decisions” and “Usually decide cases based on legal analysis” are mutually exclusive statements.

Even more telling is that a slightly smaller majority think ideology will be a larger factor than legal analysis in deciding whether the individual mandate is constitutional. I think they are wrong, but I also don’t imagine that the average person understands the constitutional implications that the court is being asked to decide. Which necessarily means they won’t be flipping on Hannity and saying “He’s right!” It’s also a good segue into the next two slides:

Let’s go ahead and discount the analytical opinion of how Justices will decide the ACA if 68% of them have heard “nothing at all” or “only a little” about the case itself.

Surprisingly, though, a majority think the rest of the ACA would be still be implemented if the mandate is struck down. One of the lesser court rulings came to the same conclusion, as well, but this one of the more interesting aspects of the upcoming decision.

Another new aspect KFF polled concerned reported conversations about the law:

I find this kind of stuff fascinating because compare the above information with this slide from another recent KFF poll:

Which I’ve translated into a more visual medium, combining the two favorable/unfavorable percentage categories (blue for the former, red for the latter):

Considering that there’s only one major feature of the ACA whose combined favorability drops below 50%, it’s striking that 14% of those that have had conversations about the law heard “mostly bad things.” Which makes me question what those “bad things” are – and how much of it is accurate anyway. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve had much in the way of substantive dialogue about the ACA. This is primarily because I spend so much time debunking the crap out of it that there’s little patience left over for discussing the actual merits.

Finally, my favorite graph:

Even the most well written articles about the ACA and popularity don’t include this tiny bit of context. So excuse me for this next part:


Please keep this in mind the next time you hear some lesser-informed pundit proclaim that a majority of Americans want it repealed. They’re using poll numbers that come from “approval” ratings which do not distinguish between those who want it repealed and those that want it expanded. Presumably those that want it expanded would rather keep the ACA than nothing.


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