Why Americans Are Okay With the Affordable Care Act, But Despise Obamacare


The Onion recently published a satirical article titled "Man Who Understands 8% of Obamacare Vigorously Defends It From Man Who Understands 5%". It was one of those moments where the Onion's satire brilliantly hits a little too close to reality.

The American people understand the politics of Obamacare a lot better than they understand the policy of it, and it's the media's fault. The average person could probably tell you that many Republicans want to repeal the law, while Democrats generally favor it. They could probably tell you the fight over funding Obamacare is at the heart of the current budget battle that might result in a government shutdown. They could recite some talking points that are thrown around on cable news programs. But when it comes down to the actual policy of Obamacare, few could go beyond those talking points.

A recent survey conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans surveyed were unaware that the Affordable Care Act's online marketplace for health insurance exchanges go live on October 1st. Even more disturbingly, nearly three-quarters of uninsured Americans surveyed — those who are intended to benefit from this — were unaware.

But being unaware of this critically important aspect of the law did not stop people from having an opinion of the law itself. And people's opinion of the law also hinges on what you call it.

Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are obviously the same thing, but they have different favorability ratings. CNBC's third-quarter All-American Economic Survey asked 812 respondents what they thought of Obamacare and what they thought of the Affordable Care Act.

Nearly one third of respondents did not know what the Affordable Care Act is, compared to only 12% who didn't know what Obamacare is — which probably reflects the more popular usage of the term "Obamacare" than "Affordable Care Act." The positives and negatives of the law rise when it is called "Obamacare" as opposed to the "Affordable Care Act." The survey concluded that 46% of respondents oppose Obamacare, while only 37% oppose the Affordable Care Act. Similarly, the positive approval rating of the law jumps 7 points from 22-29% when it is called Obamacare. The rest of the respondents were unsure. When Obama's name is attached to health care, people's personal opinions of Obama himself are likely to skew their perception of the law. In other words, Republicans and Democrats react pretty much like you'd expect.

Another interesting revelation of the survey was that Republicans think they know more about Obamacare than everyone else. While 30% of respondents as a whole admitted they felt they didn't know enough about Obamacare to have an opinion, only 18% of Republicans said the same.

The term "Obamacare" was originally coined by opponents of the health care reform law in the days of its inception, and for a long time was used almost exclusively by opponents of the law because it had a more negative connotation to it than "health reform" or "Affordable Care Act". While Obama has won every institutional battle over health care reform, opponents of the law are still winning the propaganda war.

The president remains confident. He told students at a community college in Maryland the other day, "Once it's working really well, I guarantee they will not call it Obamacare."