As Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives planned their January 2011 vote to repeal the health care reform bill, members turned to the results of the November election for support.
In Washington, Republicans swept to power in the House and narrowed Democratic majorities in the Senate. In Wisconsin, the GOP won a U.S. Senate seat, the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature. Repealing health reform -- "ObamaCare," as they label it -- was a part of Republican campaigns at all levels.
In the run-up to the House repeal vote, U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, appeared Jan. 16, 2010 at a town hall meeting. In comments to reporters, including WTMJ-AM (620), he discussed the rationale for pursuing repeal of the law. (On Jan. 19, the Republican-led House voted 245-189 largely along party lines to repeal the health care reform bill, but the effort is likely to die in the Senate.)
"The House of Representatives -- and this representative -- has listened to the American people," Sensenbrenner said. "We had a debate on whether ‘ObamaCare' was the way to go to fix up health care and the American voters said no -- emphatically."
Of course, public opinion can be a moving target. And election mandates can grow over time, especially in the eyes of the winners.
So we decided to take a look at Sensenbrenner’s statement, including at what current polls are showing.
Asked for support for Sensenbrenner’s position, aides noted he held 101 town hall meetings in his district last year.
"At these meetings, the overwhelming majority of attendees (public from the 5th District) were opposed to the healthcare bill and/or supported the law’s repeal," said communications director Wendy Riemann.
She added that 70 percent to 75 percent of those who called or wrote Sensenbrenner’s office since last February "have been opposed to the law and would like to see it repealed."
Sensenbrenner’s staff also pointed to a Jan. 17, 2011 Rasmussen Reports poll, the day after he spoke. That poll said 55 percent of likely voters favor repeal of the health care law, while 40 percent oppose repeal.
Here’s the question Rasmussen asked: "A proposal has been made to repeal the health care bill and stop it from going into effect. Do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose a proposal to repeal the health care bill?"
On the face of it, 55 percent does not seem "emphatic." Indeed, according to the firm, the percentage strongly favoring repeal has fallen.
The firm’s summary said: "Just 40 percent strongly favor repeal, matching the lowest level found since the health care bill became law. Thirty percent strongly oppose repeal."
We found some other fresh polls, which provide a murkier picture than the one painted by Sensenbrenner.
The Associated Press conducted its own poll and reported Jan. 17 that "strong opposition to the law stands at 30 percent." The figure was close to the lowest level found in AP surveys dating back to September 2009.
"The nation is divided over the law, but the strength and intensity of the opposition appear diminished," the AP reported. "The poll finds that 40 percent of those surveyed said they support the law, while 41 percent oppose it. Just after the November congressional elections, opposition stood at 47 percent and support was 38 percent."
The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
As for repeal, only about one in four said they want to do away with the law completely.
Meanwhile, the Kaiser Family Foundation conducts a health tracking poll and in January 2011 issued an update about public opinion about reform.
"The last Kaiser Health Tracking Poll of the year found that 42 percent of Americans held a favorable view of health reform, 41 percent an unfavorable view and 18 percent offered no opinion. This pattern has been roughly stable over the eight months since passage, suggesting that neither side has been able to make a definitive case for or against the bill."
Kaiser’s report added that 26 percent of those surveyed want to repeal the law in its entirety; 25 percent want to repeal parts of the law and keep other parts; one in five want to
leave the law as it is; and one in five want to expand the law.
Finally, a Jan. 7, 2011 Gallup poll concluded that Americans "do not strongly endorse" House Republicans’ efforts to repeal the bill.
Gallup found that 46 percent of Americans want their representative in Congress to vote to repeal the health care law, 40 percent want their representative to vote to let the law stand, and 14 percent have no opinion.
That’s the view today. What about at the time of the election?
PolitiFact Wisconsin addressed this topic last fall, during the race for U. S. Senate. We looked into a television ad by Ron Johnson that claimed, "A majority of Wisconsinites opposed the government takeover of health care" and rated the claim False.
In that case, the polling was more mixed than Johnson presented and, in some cases, respondents opposed the law not because it went too far, but because it did not go far enough.
Where does all of this leave us today?
Sensenbrenner said American voters had "emphatically" rejected the federal health reform changes. District residents may have felt that way, though calls to a congressman’s office are hardly scientific -- and Sensenbrenner’s statement cited national opinion on the issue. Also, numerous polls after the November election indicated that voters had one issue foremost in their mind: the economy.
Of four fresh looks at how Americans feel about repealing health care reform, his staff chose one -- Rasmussen’s poll of likely voters -- that supported his position. But that sentiment is not shared by the public at large, according to multiple other polls. And in the Rasmussen poll, the percentage strongly supporting repeal has fallen.
We rate Sensenbrenner’s statement Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.