In a red state like Nebraska, the health care law is just about as unpopular as the man behind it.
Fifty-five percent of registered voters in Nebraska said they favored repealing the law commonly — and sometimes derisively — referred to as Obamacare.
Thirty-nine percent opposed repeal.
The breakdown in The World-Herald Poll was similar to the support voters expressed in the presidential race, in which 51 percent of Nebraskans supported Republican Mitt Romney and 40 percent supported President Barack Obama, the Democrat.
The correlation makes sense to John Hibbing, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The health care law is “such a signature issue for Obama,” Hibbing said. The debate over it, he said, has “almost become a surrogate for the candidates themselves.”
When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed the U.S. House in 2010, it did so without a single Republican vote. It continues to be a dividing line in political debates across the country.
The outcry over Sen. Ben Nelson's vote to back the president's health care plan seriously damaged his political standing in Nebraska. Before he decided to retire, the vote left Nelson among the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate.
Romney has said he will push to “repeal and replace” the health care law, noting that he would work to enact some features now in the law, such as the requirement that people with pre-existing conditions be allowed to get insurance coverage.
Some of the opposition to the law has nothing to do with politics. The insurance mandate and the penalties associated with it have raised concerns among employer groups, said Bruce Rieker, vice president of advocacy for the Nebraska Hospital Association. In addition, uncertainty among Medicare recipients about future benefits and questions about which providers will take Medicare patients may color their perception of the law, Rieker said.
But Rieker sees some political influence in the numbers, especially in the 3rd Congressional District. Nebraskans in the heavily Republican district favored repeal of the law by 60 percent to 33 percent.
“This is pure speculation on my part, but the 3rd District, that's probably driven a little bit more by a partisan perspective,” said Rieker, former chief of staff to the district's former GOP congressman, Tom Osborne.
Among Nebraska Democrats, 67 percent opposed repealing, while 77 percent of Republicans statewide favored repeal.
Rieker also has heard people say good things about the law. Many, he said, like that insurance companies won't be able to deny coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition. And they like the ability to have children covered by a parent's insurance up to age 26.
The World-Herald Poll of 800 registered voters was conducted Sept. 17 through 20 by Wiese Research Associates of Omaha. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
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