Politically, Obamacare Isn't About Health Care

Partisanship, not personal experience, seems to guide public approval of the law.

Obamacare has taken on a political life of its own, largely separate from the complex series of health care policies it actually comprises.

The health care law has essentially become a proxy for the president who signed it—voters' approval or disapproval of the Affordable Care Act is largely a reflection of how they feel about President Obama, rather than what they think the health care law has or hasn't done.

Democrats hoped for years that Obamacare would become less of an abstraction once its biggest benefits kicked in. That doesn't appear to be happening, if the Kaiser Family Foundation's latest tracking poll is any guide. Partisanship is much better than personal experience at predicting whether voters will approve or disapprove of the health care law.

Kaiser asked registered voters how they would respond if a candidate supported Obama, and if a candidate voted for the Affordable Care Act. The breakdowns are almost identical: 72 percent of Republicans would be less likely to vote for a candidate because he or she voted for Obamacare; 83 percent are less likely to vote for someone who supports Obama.

Conversely, 52 percent of Democrats said they'd be more likely to support a candidate who supports Obama, and 53 percent said they'd be more likely to support someone who supports Obamacare.

This helps explain why public approval of the health care law never seems to change: It's a party-ID issue, not one about a particular set of health care policies. Republicans are also more likely to continue to support repeal and less likely to say candidates should move on to other issues.

But while both parties are dug in about the politics of the law, a majority of voters in the Kaiser survey—including 50 percent of Republicans—said the law has not affected them personally at all.

Among those who say they have been affected, politics still reigns: Republicans overwhelmingly said they've been hurt, while more Democrats said they've been helped. Just 3 percent of Republicans said they've been helped by Obamacare, and just 10 percent of Democrats said they've been hurt.