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By Julie Kliegman September 26, 2013

Obamacare "has never been favored by a majority of Americans," Gingrich says

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, made waves this week with his 21-hour Senate speech against Obamacare. While he’s the only one reading Green Eggs and Ham to his colleagues as a form of protest, he’s far from alone in his criticism of the law.

CNN Crossfire host Newt Gingrich referenced public opinion on the Sept. 24, 2013, show while criticizing President Barack Obama’s health care reform.

"It is a bill which has never once had a majority of Americans favor it," he said.

Gingrich’s claim comes while Congress evaluates Republican-written legislation that proposes funding the government only if Obamacare is defunded.

We looked at a similar claim in 2011, but it’s time to dive into the polls again.

Since the Affordable Care Act was drafted in 2009, the poll numbers have been more or less consistent across different months and polling organizations: The approval rating has hovered around 40 percent recently, with about 50 percent disapproval and 10 percent no opinion.

Not much has changed since then, according to a recent CNN and ORC report of all their Obamacare polling. That’s consistent with Gallup and other polling agencies. As best as we can tell, a credible poll has never turned up a figure over 50 percent.

Bigger picture

Gingrich was onto something with the poll results, confirmed Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota professor who specializes in public opinion and polling.

"It’s one of those things where when you look at the number of polling organizations, the variety of question wordings, I consider that an impressive finding and a robust one," Jacobs said.

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However, there’s a disconnect between the poll results themselves and Gingrich’s implication that most Americans don’t want Obamacare, Jacobs added.

Although the poll results are consistent with each other, they produce lower favorability ratings than polls about health care reform that refer to the "Affordable Care Act" as opposed to "Obamacare," according to CNBC.

That’s because using the president’s name in a poll is "more likely to invoke a partisan prism for evaluation," said Michael Traugott, a University of Michigan professor who specializes in public opinion and polling.

In those studies that ask more generally about health care reform, Republicans respond more favorably.

When pollsters ask the public about individual elements of Obamacare, like coverage for pre-existing conditions, the majority favors them, Traugott said. The main exception to this rule is the individual mandate.

Another caveat to the poll results Gingrich references is the fact that a sizable segment of the public is misinformed or uninformed about the details of Obamacare. In fact, four in 10 polled by the Kaiser Family Foundation in April were unaware that the Affordable Care Act is still law. So many people indicate that they don’t favor Obamacare not because they don’t agree with the policy, but because they don’t understand the policy.

"Low levels of knowledge about the details of the legislation make it unlikely that there would be widespread support for it," Traugott said.

Our ruling

Gingrich claimed that Obamacare has never been supported by a majority of the nation. The polls themselves show that yes, approval has hovered around 40 percent for the past few years. But Gingrich eliminates the context of other polls, which show that a majority of people do approve of individual components of Obamacare. Because the statement needs clarification or additional information, we rate his claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

CNBC, "All-America Economic Survey Results," Sept. 26, 2013

CNN Crossfire, "Clinton Lends a Hand to Obama’s Health Care Law," Sept. 25, 2013

CNN/ORC International, poll results, Sept. 11, 2013

Gallup, "Americans Wary of Health Care Law’s Impact," June 27, 2013

Kaiser Family Foundation, "Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: April 2013," April 30, 2013

Kaiser Family Foundation, "Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: June 2013," June 19, 2013

New York Times, "Details of Health Care Ruling Could Be Lost on Public," June 27, 2012

Phone interview with Larry Jacobs, Director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at University of Minnesota, Sept. 25, 2013

Phone interview with Michael Traugott, political communication professor at University of Michigan, Sept. 26, 2013

PolitiFact, "The Majority of People in Polls ‘Do Not Support Obamacare'," Feb. 6, 2011

Washington Post, "Don’t Sweat Obamacare’s Low Approval Ratings," June 6, 2013

Washington Post, "How Unpopular or Popular is Obamacare?" Sept. 25, 2013

Washington Post, "Republicans Support Obama’s health reforms -- As Long as His Name Isn’t on Them," June 25, 2012

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More by Julie Kliegman

Obamacare "has never been favored by a majority of Americans," Gingrich says

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