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Obamacare: Will Republicans benefit from a repeal vote of the Affordable Care Act?

Mark TrumbullThe Christian Science Monitor

When the US Supreme Court recently upheld President Obama's health-care reform law, its surprise decision appears to have tilted a substantial number of Americans closer to supporting Republican challenger Mitt Romney when they vote in November.

That's the finding of a new poll conducted in the wake of the high court's ruling.

For political independents – the voters likely to cast the decisive votes this fall – 26 percent said the court's ruling makes them more likely to support Mr. Romney, according to a Christian Science Monitor/Investor's Business Daily/TIPP poll. By contrast, only 14 percent said the court ruling makes them more likely to support Mr. Obama.

But the politics of health care is nothing if not complex.

Even as the court ruling appears to help Romney's cause, that doesn't necessarily mean congressional Republicans stand to gain in public opinion from their decision to hold a "repeal Obamacare" vote this week.

Like Romney, House Republicans have pledged a "repeal and replace" approach to the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). But as conservative lawmakers seek to move down that path, they face two discomforting facts: Many Americans don't want the law repealed, and many are skeptical of whether Republicans have a good "replace" plan to offer.

Some Americans wholeheartedly reject the ACA, but many are more ambivalent. They may like core provisions of the law even as they worry about its impact on health-care costs and on the size of an already large federal bureaucracy.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds a rise in support for the ACA since the court ruled. Its July poll finds 47 percent of US adults supporting the law, and an equal number opposed. Back in April the "opposed" camp led by 14 percentage points.

When it comes to repeal, the poll also finds division within that opposed camp. About one-third of them say they'd repeal the whole law, one-third say they'd repeal part of it, and the rest chose a "wait and see" option.

House Republicans plan to vote on repeal Wednesday. This wouldn't be the first time they've gone on the record to undo what they call Obamacare. But it would be their first effort to do so after the Supreme Court solidified the act as constitutional, in a decision that dashed conservative hopes.

The ruling's political impact cuts both ways, says Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which conducted the Monitor/TIPP poll from June 28 through July 6.

For many Democrats, the ruling adds luster to Obama's signature legislative achievement. But it also galvanizes the law's opposition. Overall, 29 percent of Americans in the Monitor/TIPP poll said they'll be more likely to vote for Romney because of the ruling, while 20 percent said it tilts them toward Obama. The rest said the ruling would have no impact, or that they were unsure.

And as already noted, the ruling tips two independent voters Romney's way for every one prodded toward Obama.

"Most people did not expect the result from the Supreme Court," Mr. Mayur says. Rather, surveys conducted prior to the ruling found Americans generally expecting the justices to strike down the law's mandate on individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a fine.

"The opponents of the health-care reform are people who do not subscribe to the big-government philosophy," Mr. Mayur says. The ruling "helps them to gravitate more towards Romney."

The Monitor/TIPP poll also found the presidential contest tightening into essentially a neck-and-neck race.

The poll also found that, although the economy is the election's major issue, health care will remain an important topic on voter minds.

Some 61 percent of Americans rank a candidate's view of the ACA as a high concern, compared with 80 percent who rank policies on jobs and the economy as a high concern.