Health Care Debate Hurts Obama’s Popularity

STATE—While President Obama’s support among New Jersey Democrats remains strong, Republicans and independents have grown more wary of both the president and plans for health-care reform.

According to the latest results from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, only 1-in-3 New Jersey voters (33%) say that the health-care reforms being proposed will benefit them and their families. Nearly half (46%) say that they would be worse off if the reforms pass, up substantially from 34% earlier in the summer, while those who say they’re unsure how reform might affect them declined 10 points to 21% from 31% earlier in the summer.


“Nothing happened to change the minds of people who were already in favor of reform,” said Dan Cassino, a political scientist and survey analyst at Fairleigh Dickinson, “but many people who weren’t sure have turned decisively against it.” In fact, 41% of likely voters now say they would instruct their member of Congress to vote against a health-care reform bill, while 37% say that they would ask their representative to support it.

In another indicator of voters’ apprehension in the health-care debate, 42% say that the reforms would be bad for America. However, 44% of voters say that the reforms would be good for America regardless of how it impacts them. That compares to the 33% who say reform would benefit them personally: leaving 11% who believe that reform will be good for the country, but bad for them personally, a group evenly composed of Republicans, Democrats and independents.

While President Obama and his attempts to reform the American health-care system meet with increased skepticism, 56% of New Jersey voters say that they approve of the job Obama is doing as president, down from 61% in June. The percentage of Democrats approving of the President is stable (88), but 7-in-10 Republicans now say that they disapprove of the president, a jump of 11 points. His support is also substantially worse among independents: just 40% approve of the job he’s doing, down from 52% at the start of the summer.

“It’s not that the health-care debate is hurting the Democrats. It’s that the health-care reforms have helped Republicans by giving them a rallying point,” said Cassino. “The main impact of the health-care debate has been to reassert partisan divisions, turning Republican voters against Obama.”

For the first time in Obama’s Presidency, as many, if not more, New Jersey voters say the country is going in the wrong direction (46%) as think that it’s on the right track (44%). This is another change driven by increasing disapproval among Republicans and independents.

“Polarization has been the norm in American politics for the last 15 years,” said Cassino. “And these results show that the next few years aren’t likely to be any different.”

The survey also finds that voters’ views of health-care reform vary significantly depending on their attentiveness. For example, among the least attentive voters, a majority (52%) say that they would be worse off if reform passed; only 20% say that they would be better off. But the most attentive voters split almost evenly on the issue (38%-41%). Similarly, the most attentive voters are almost twice as likely to say that the country will be better off if reforms are passed as those who are the least informed (48% vs. 27%). In the most striking difference, 46% of those who are the most attentive say they would instruct their member of Congress to vote for reforms; only 19% of the least informed say they want their representative to vote for it.

“The arguments over health-care reform have apparently swayed many attentive citizens,” said Cassino. “But the rest of that battle may be fought over people who don’t always pay attention.

That group remains far from convinced that reform will help them. It suggests that the White House has a long way to go and a lot of work ahead of it on this issue,” Cassino concluded.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 715 likely voters statewide was conducted by telephone from Aug. 24 through Aug. 30, and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.

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