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Voters say Obamacare will affect their presidential choice

A year before they will go to the polls to elect a new president, a strong majority of Americans say that President Barack Obama's health-care reform law will play an important role in how they select his successor.

But despite that majority view about the issue's importance, it's unclear if Obamacare will end up being a deciding factor in the 2016 presidential election. That's because voters are split, almost dead even, on whether they want to see the Affordable Care Act repealed or kept as law.

Protesters outside the Supreme Court on March 4, 2015.
Matt CmClain | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Protesters outside the Supreme Court on March 4, 2015.

Those findings come in a new survey released by insuranceQuotes.com, a unt of Bankrate , which looked at Americans' attitudes about the ACA by questioning 1,004 people last month. The survey found that 85 percent of respondents said Obamacare will factor into their vote for the next president.

A total of 41 percent said the ACA would be "very important" in determining their vote. Another 33 percent said it would be "somewhat important," according to the survey, which had a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

However, while Americans agreed the issue is important, they disagreed on their opinion of the law. A total of 45 percent of the respondents told pollsters the would like to keep Obamacare in place. Only slightly fewer people, 44 percent, said they wanted to repeal it.

That split is "virtually unchanged" from September 2013, the month before government-run Obamacare exchanges began selling private insurance health plans that went into effect in 2014, according to insuranceQuotes.com. As of 2014, the ACA requires nearly all Americans to have some form of health coverage or pay a tax penalty.

Laura Adams, senior analyst at insuranceQuotes.com, said the nearly even split means that the question of whether Obamacare affects the election — and which candidate it ends up helping — "may come down to who really gets out to the polls."

Adams noted that younger adults, known as millennials, are the group most likely to support the ACA, and to say that their health insurance situation is better today than it was a year ago. A total of 54 percent of millennials want to keep the law, as opposed to 32 percent who favor repeal.

"If they show up, they could influence" the outcome of the race, Adams said.

On the other hand, she said, adults age 50 to 64 were the group most likely to favor repealing Obamacare, and to say their insurance situation has worsened over the past year. Half of the respondents in that age group favor repeal, while 42 percent favor keeping the law intact.

The survey also showed the persistence of a a wide partisan split on the issue. A total of 74 percent of self-identified Democrats favored keeping the law, which was proposed by a Democratic president. And 77 percent of Republicans want the law repealed.

The overall findings mean that "health care will certainly be a hot-button issue during the 2016," Adams said. "Positive and negative emotions are still strong five years after the Affordable Care Act was passed, and two years after the initial enrollment period."

The survey comes three weeks before CNBC's scheduled Oct. 28 Republican presidential debate.

The GOP candidates have been, as a group, strongly opposed to Obamacare, and favor repeal of the law.

However, two of them, governors John Kasich of Ohio and Chris Christie of New Jersey, agreed to expanded Medicaid eligibility standards in their states in order to allow nearly all poor adults to qualify for that health-coverage program for low-income people. Medicaid expansion, which has now been adopted by 30 states and the District of Columbia, is a key component of Obamacare, one that has led to much of the reduction in the number of uninsured people in the United States.

The two leading declared contenders for the Democratic nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, both have called for modifying Obamacare by getting rid of its so-called Cadillac tax, which imposes a 40 percent levy on the value of high-cost employer-sponsored health plans above a certain threshold.

Fewer people fear being uninsured

In other findings, the survey indicated a decrease in the number of Americans who are either "somewhat" or "very" worried about being able to afford health insurance in the future. In August 2014, 55 percent of respondents expressed such worry about insurance affordability. As of last month, that had drifted down to 47 percent of respondents.

"I guess that's positive," Adams said. "But it's still a lot of people saying they're worried."

She said that women and Hispanics were the group most concerned about their ability to pay for health coverage in the future.