WASHINGTON — A majority of Americans want Congress to keep the new health care law or actually expand it, despite Republican claims that they have a mandate from the people to kill it, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
The post-election survey showed that 51 percent of registered voters want to keep the law or change it to do more, while 44 percent want to change it to do less or repeal it altogether.
Driving support for the law: Voters by margins of 2-1 or greater want to keep some of its best-known benefits, such as barring insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.
One thing they don't like: The mandate that everyone must buy insurance.
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At the same time, the survey showed that a majority of voters side with the Democrats on another hot-button issue, extending the Bush-era tax cuts that are set to expire Dec. 31 only for those making less than $250,000.
The results signal a more complicated and challenging political landscape for Republicans in Congress than their sweeping midterm wins suggest. Party leaders call the election a mandate, and vow votes to repeal the health care law and to block an extension of middle-class tax cuts unless tax cuts for the wealthy also are extended.
"The political give and take is very different than public opinion," said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which conducted the poll. "On health care, there is a wide gap between public opinion and the political community."
Far from the all-or-nothing positions staked out by politicians and pundits, Americans are more divided about the health care law.
On the side favoring it, 16 percent of registered voters want to let it stand as is.
Another 35 percent want to change it to do more. Among groups with pluralities who want to expand it: women, minorities, people younger than 45, Democrats, liberals, Northeasterners and those making less than $50,000 a year.
Lining up against the law, 11 percent want to amend it to rein it in. Another 33 percent want to repeal it.
Among groups with pluralities favoring repeal: men, whites, those older than 45, those making more than $50,000 annually, conservatives, Republicans and tea party supporters.
Independents, who swung to the Republicans in the Nov. 2 elections, are evenly divided on how to handle the health care law, with 36 percent for repealing it and 12 percent for restraining it — a total of 48 percent negative — while 34 percent want to expand it and 14 percent want to leave it as is — also totaling 48 percent.
Several benefits of the new law are broadly popular.
Registered voters by a margin of 59 percent to 36 percent want to keep the requirement that insurance companies provide coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
Among supporters, Republicans want to keep that part of the law rather than repeal it by a margin of 51-45. Independents want to keep it by a margin of 59-37. Even 46 percent of conservatives and 48 percent of tea party supporters want to keep it.
The section of the law requiring insurance companies to allow young adults to remain on their parents' policies until age 26 also is popular, with voters saying keep it rather than repeal it by a margin of 68 percent to 29 percent.
Voters, by a margin of 57 percent to 32 percent, also want to keep the part of the law that closes the so-called "donut hole" in Medicare prescription drug coverage.
They turn a solid thumbs down on the law's mandate that every American must buy insurance, with 65 percent calling that unconstitutional and 29 percent saying it should be kept.
As Congress prepares to debate whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, the poll showed that 51 percent want to extend the tax cuts only for households making less than $250,000 a year, and 45 percent want to extend the tax cuts for all.
Those who support tax cuts only for those making less than $250,000 a year include minorities, Democrats, liberals and moderates, women, college graduates, Midwesterners and Northeasterners.
Those who want to extend all of the tax cuts, including for the wealthy, include Republicans, tea party supporters, conservatives, Southerners and Westerners.