Raleigh, N.C. — Could the Affordable Care Act, what some people call "Obamacare," be losing steam as a political issue?
An Elon University Poll released Monday suggests that North Carolina voters aren't exactly feeling great about the ACA, but neither are they as down on President Barack Obama's signature health care law as they were six months ago.
In November, 54 percent of of registered voters told the poll that they believed the ACA would make things worse for health care. That declined to 44 percent in April.
That doesn't mean North Carolinians like the law. Only 35 percent of those responding to the April survey said they believed the ACA would make health care better. But it does suggest that health care may be a less effective weapon for Republicans going into the fall general election than had once been thought.
"I think it's inevitable it will slowly decline (as an issue). It has been on the national agenda for such a long time," said Kenneth Fernandez, director of Elon University Poll.
Still, there are important partisan differences.
More than 80 percent of Republicans still say the ACA will make health care worse, while only 15 percent of Democrats do.
So, it makes sense that all eight Republican U.S. Senate candidates, including front-runners Thom Tillis, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris, all hammered home the "repeal Obamacare" message during the primary. The question is, will they be able to comfortably stay on that message through the fall?
To answer that question, the most important numbers may be the unaffiliated voters. Only 44 percent of independents say the ACA will make the nation's health care system worse. That's still more than the number of unaffiliated voters who say the ACA will make health care better, but speaks to a diminishing playing field for the issue.
"Still, in a close election, that could be enough to swing things," Fernandez said, saying that Republicans would still have an incentive – albeit a diminishing one – to use the issue this fall.
The results echo a New York Times poll that found 60 percent of North Carolinians would like to see their congressional representatives work to improve the law, rather than repeal it.
The Elon Poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.78 percentage points for most questions, although that margin is bigger when talking about subsets of voters like Republicans and Democrats.
Those cross tabs often reveal differences between different kind of voters not immediately apparent in the top line result. For example, 29 percent of voters said they believed the economy would get better, versus 26 in December. But there was both a partisan divide – 41 percent of Democrats were upbeat about the economy versus 28 percent of unaffiliated voters and 14 percent of Republicans – as well as a racial divide. Black voters were twice as likely as white voters to say the economy will improve: 46 percent to 23 percent.
As voters go to the polls, it's worth noting that the state's new voter ID policy, which fully goes into effect in 2016, is generally popular but more popular among some voters than others. Some 70 percent of voters overall say they approve of requiring identification in order to cast an in-person ballot, but the cross-tabs show that the policy is much more popular among Republicans, 97 percent of whom say they approve of the policy.
Roughly three-quarters of unaffiliated voters say they approve of the policy.Only 45 percent of Democrats approve, but that is a recent phenomenon, Fernandez said. Until September, a majority of Democrats polled in North Carolina said they tended to favor a voter ID policy, he said. The change, he said, correlated with the months of protests at the General Assembly by the "Moral Monday" movement.
One last telling cross-tab: voters were asked about their support for allowing same-sex couples to marry. The younger a voter in the survey, the more likely they were to support legalizing gay marriage.