By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — As the deadline approaches for enrolling in Obamacare health coverage this year, younger Americans have warmed somewhat to the president’s health care law, but Latinos remain closely split over it.
Those findings from a large-scale Pew Research Center survey provide a glimpse at two groups that are major targets of the Obama administration’s push to get people to sign up before the March 31 deadline.
The administration had originally hoped to get about 7 million people to sign up for coverage in the first year but lowered its expectations after the disastrous rollout last fall of the HealthCare.gov website. Enrollments now appear to be on track to end up somewhat more than 6 million.
Opinion about the Affordable Care Act soured among Latinos during the fall and has not recovered, the new Pew poll found. Latinos in the current survey were evenly divided, with 47 percent approving of the law and 47 percent disapproving.
By contrast, Americans younger than 30, who also grew more negative during the fall, now appear to have grown somewhat more accepting of the law. Among Americans ages 18 through 29, 50 percent say they approve of it and 47 percent oppose.
By contrast, among all Americans, disapproval still prevails, with 41 percent favoring the law and 53 percent opposed.
Overall feelings toward the law have not changed in many months, but the public’s sense of what political figures should do about it have shifted. Now that the law has taken effect, a majority of those who dislike it want to see public officials do what they can to make it work.
Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans say they want public officials to try to make the law fail — down from about 1 in 4 in September.
The exception is among Republicans who identify with the tea party. Among that group, 60 percent want elected officials to try to make the law fail. By contrast, among Republicans who do not identify with the Tea Party, most say they want politicians to figure out how to make the law work as well as possible. Only about one-quarter want officials to try to make it fail.
That sharp divide among Republicans has been a major complication for GOP elected officials for most of the last year. The party remains united so long as debate focuses on Obamacare, which the vast majority of Republicans oppose. But that unity dissolves when discussions move toward what to do about it.
Although the country leans against the Affordable Care Act, more support exists for the general principle that government should guarantee that all Americans have health coverage. On that question, the public divides almost equally, with 50 percent saying no and 47 percent yes, the poll found.
Americans who earn more than $30,000 per year and those with college educations tend to respond to those two questions consistently — nearly the same percentage who say the government should guarantee coverage also say they support the law, and the same is true for opposition.
But a significant number of Americans earning less than $30,000 and those with only a high school education see the issues separately. Those who have only a high school education oppose the law 57 perccent to 36 percent, but that group narrowly supports the idea of a government guarantee, 49 percent to 47 percent.
Part of that split involves Latinos. Although closely divided on the law, a large majority (61 percent) of Latinos support the idea of government guaranteeing health care coverage.
With Obamacare continuing to be a major topic in this year’s congressional elections, intensity continues to favor opponents of the law. About 4 in 10 Americans say they very strongly disapprove of the law; by contrast, about one-quarter strongly approve of it.
For that reason, supporters of the law may take cheer from the fact that it has faded somewhat from the nation’s headlines. Only 23 percent of Americans told Pew this month that they were very closely following news about the health care law. That’s down significantly from the fall. Those who are following closely were about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
The Pew survey was conducted Feb. 27-March 16 among 3,335 American adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.
AFP Photo/Karen Bleier