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Kaiser Health Tracking Poll — January 2012

As the Supreme Court prepares to hear legal challenges to the health reform law in March, most Americans expect the Justices to base their ruling on their own ideological views rather than their interpretation of the law, according to the January Health Tracking Poll. Other key findings include:

  • The public doubts the Supreme Court renders judgments based solely on the law. Three-quarters (75%) say they think that, in general, Justices let their own ideological views influence their decisions while 17 percent say they usually decide cases based on legal analysis without regard to politics and ideology. Similarly, when asked specifically about the challenge to the individual mandate in the health reform law, six in ten (59%) Americans say they expect the Justices will take their own ideological views into account, while 28 percent think their decision will be based purely on legal analysis and interpretation.
  • As for the public’s own views of the mandate, the January poll shows that the requirement that everyone obtain health insurance or pay a fine continues to be unpopular. This month’s poll finds the public more than twice as likely to have an unfavorable rather than favorable view of the provision (67% to 30%), very much in line with findings of previous Kaiser polls. Reflecting this dislike for a mandate, 54 percent of Americans say the Court should rule the individual mandate unconstitutional, while just 17 percent say they think it should be found constitutional. Roughly mirroring public views on the mandate, 55 percent of the public say they expect the Justices to find the mandate unconstitutional and 29 percent expect the Justices to find it constitutional.
  • The public does not expect the entire law to go away if the Supreme Court rules against the mandate. A majority (55%) of the public believes that parts of the health reform law will still be implemented even if the Court strikes down the individual mandate, while three in ten (30%) think a ruling against the mandate effectively will mean the end of the entire law.
  • As the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act approaches on March 23, Americans remain as divided on the law as ever, with 37 percent in January saying they have a favorable view of it, and 44 percent having an unfavorable view. At the same time, the share of the public that favors expanding the law (31%) or keeping it in its current form (19%) remains larger than the share who would like to see the law repealed outright (22%) or repealed and replaced with a Republican-backed alternative (18%).
  • As the race for the Republican presidential nomination heats up, the latest tracking poll shows that attempts by rival GOP contenders to paint former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as holding views on health policy similar to those of President Obama do not seem to be resonating with most Republicans. Despite repeated reminders that Romney signed a 2006 Massachusetts law that is similar in some respects to the national health reform law, nearly half of Republicans (49%) say the two men’s views are different, three in ten say they are similar, and another 22 percent had no opinion

The January poll is the latest in a series designed and analyzed by the Foundation’s public opinion research team.

Findings (.pdf)

Chartpack (.pdf)

Toplines (.pdf)