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Survey: Court Hearings Don’t Move Public Opinion On Health Law

The three days in March that the Supreme Court devoted to debating the health law didn’t change many minds among the public. But the debate, and related media coverage, appear to have increased awareness about the law and made Republicans more supportive of the justices, according to a new survey.

As it has for two years, the public remained divided over the law when they were surveyed a week after the arguments ended, according to the latest survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially-independent program of the foundation.) According to the poll, 50 percent of American said they were “very or fairly” closely following the court case, up from 37 percent in March.

The extensive focus during the court hearings on the individual mandate may have also led to a greater understanding of that provision of the law: 74 percent of Americans were aware it was part of the law, up from 64 percent before the court’s hearing. The mandate, which would require all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a fine, remains unpopular among the public. Less than one-third of those surveyed feel favorably about it. That barely changed from March.

Some justices’ skepticism about the law as expressed during its hearings appears to have increased Republican confidence in the court. The percent of Republicans who said they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the court jumped from 24 to 43, while the percent of Democrats with that degree of faith was at 29 percent, a statistically-insignificant increase of 1 percentage point. Overall, 31 percent of respondents expressed a great deal of confidence in the court.

Republicans also showed growing confidence that the justices would rely on legal analysis rather than their own political leanings in determining the constitutional fate of the law, according to the poll.  In March, one third of Republicans thought the justices’ own political views would determine the court’s decision, while only 19 percent believed the justices would rely on their analysis and interpretation of the law. After the hearing, those views essentially flipped: 39 percent of Republicans thought the justices would apply legal analysis, while just 19 percent thought they would follow their political instincts, the poll found.

The poll was conducted April 4 to April 10, the week after the court’s oral arguments. The pollsters surveyed 1,210 adults. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.