37% is not a majority

37% IS NOT A MAJORITY…. CNN released a new national poll (pdf) this morning, gauging public attitudes on the Affordable Care Act. Not surprisingly, the health care law still isn’t popular, but the details matter.

The poll asked respondents a fairly straightforward question: “As you may know, a bill that makes major changes to the country’s health care system became law earlier this year. Based on what you have read or heard about that legislation, do you generally favor or generally oppose it?”

Though support has gone up a bit over the course of the year, while opposition has declined, we’re still left with 43% favoring the new law, as compared to 54% who disapprove. Steady improvements in the numbers don’t change the fact that opponents still outnumber supporters.

But to its credit, CNN asked the much-needed follow-up question:

“Do you oppose that legislation because you think its approach toward health care is too liberal, or because you think it is not liberal enough?”

Favor: 43%
Oppose, too liberal: 37%
Oppose, not liberal enough 13%

Looking back over the results since March, support has gone up four points, while those thinking the law is too liberal has dropped six points, but that’s really only a small part of the story here.

The more important element is that the conventional wisdom, driven in large part by Republican talking points, is deeply flawed. We’ve been told repeatedly that Americans just don’t like the Affordable Care Act because they consider it excessive government overreach and some kind of liberal boondoggle.

But for months we’ve seen results like those from the CNN poll — opponents of the health care law don’t all agree with the conservative Republican line. On the contrary, only 37% of the country actually endorses the right’s line and sees the Affordable Care Act as being “too liberal.”

So, when you see the top-line results and see that 54% oppose the law, this is not to say that 54% have bought into the right-wing demagoguery and think Republican criticisms have merit. On the contrary, one could look at the same results and say that a 56% majority either support the law or want it to be even more ambitious in a liberal direction.

When Republicans try to gut the Affordable Care Act next year, insisting that the country is with them, it’s worth remembering a pesky detail: they’re wrong.

Postscript: The same CNN poll, by the way, shows the public souring quickly on the individual mandate. Whereas a year ago half the country was fine with the idea, support has dropped to just 38%, which isn’t entirely surprising given that the right has targeted much of its attacks at this one provision. But the same poll shows that a 64% majority supports the law protecting consumers with pre-existing conditions from discrimination.

A big chunk of that 64% oppose the mandate, but they almost certainly don’t understand how the two policies are related.