As Health Care Law's Trial Approaches, Two-Thirds Say Ditch Individual Mandate

Two-thirds of Americans say the U.S. Supreme Court should throw out either the individual mandate  in the federal health care law or the law in its entirety,  signaling the depth of public disagreement with that  element of  the Affordable Care Act.

This ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that Americans oppose the law overall by 52-41 percent. And 67 percent believe  the high court should either ditch the  law or at least the portion that requires nearly all Americans to have coverage.

The high court opens hearings on the law's constitutionality a week from today.

The law  has never earned majority support in ABC/Post polls - and this update, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds a strong sense its critics are dominating the debate. Seventy percent of Americans report hearing mainly negative things about the law lately;  just 19 percent say the buzz has been positive. Even among its supporters, 53 percent are hearing more negatives than positives. Among opponents this soars to 88 percent.

Intensity of sentiment is more negative as well: Forty-one percent strongly oppose the law, while only a quarter strongly support it.

The Obama administration  has long had difficulty convincing Americans of the benefits of the law. In a January 2011 ABC/Post poll, for example, more people expected the law to increase rather than decrease the deficit (62-29 percent), hurt rather than help the economy (54-39 percent) and cut rather than create jobs (46-38 percent).

INDIVIDUAL MANDATE - Previous polling also has found that some aspects of the law are broadly popular - for example, extending the age at which parents can cover their children, prohibiting denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions and extending coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.

Another, though, seemingly outweighs these - the individual mandate, which requires nearly everyone to obtain health insurance by 2014, or face a fine. It's been a main point of attack for the law's critics. (An individual mandate was signed into law by then Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 2006, one focus of criticism by his opponents in the Republican primaries.)

While 67 percent of Americans favor throwing out either the whole law or at least the mandate, the data can also be construed to show that 51 percent favor either keeping the whole law or the law minus the mandate (26 and 25 percent, respectively). Keeping the law without the mandate, though, is a difficult task, since insurers say it's needed to restrain coverage costs.

KEEP OR KILL - Given that reality, respondents in this survey who prefer to keep the law but without the mandate were asked which they'd prefer if that option were not available: keep the law entirely, or kill it entirely. They tipped toward killing it, 52-44 percent.

Adding that group to the rest, who already favored keeping or killing the law, produces a net result of 55 percent who favor throwing it out, 37 percent who would keep it - another equation in which the legislation comes up short in public support.

PARTY - Opposition to the Affordable Care Act peaks in breadth and depth among Republicans, with swing-voting independents leaning their way. Sixty-three percent of Democrats support the law in general, 41 percent strongly, while three-quarters of Republicans oppose it, six in 10 strongly. Independents oppose the law by 51-43 percent, with strong opponents outnumbering strong supporters by 2-1.

That makes Barack Obama's signature domestic policy accomplishment a potential liability in the presidential election. He could find cover, though, via Romney's own history on health care legislation.

METHODOLOGY - This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone March 7-10, 2012, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 4 points for the full sample. The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.