LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning.
A new bipartisan NPR poll shows approval numbers rising for Obamacare. It is now slightly more popular than its namesake, the president. The survey of likely voters conducted for MORNING EDITION shows the president's health care law is still unpopular, but might not weigh as heavily against Democrats in the mid-term election as expected.
Here's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: After a horrendous debut in October, the Affordable Care Act ended its enrollment period with more than seven million people signed up. And our poll shows the law is viewed a little more favorably now. That's welcome news for the Democratic half of our polling team, Stan Greenberg.
STAN GREENBERG: The conventional wisdom is an unpopular program that hangs around the necks of Democrats, is an absolutely misreading of the poll data. If you look at this poll for NPR, we asked whether you favor or oppose the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. And it comes out 47 percent of support and 51 percent oppose with intensity on the opposition side.
LIASSON: In our poll, the number of people who intensely oppose the law is 12 points higher than those who strongly support the law - bad news for Democrats. But, Greenberg points out seven percent of likely voters in our poll oppose the law because it doesn't go far enough. Presumably, these are Democrats who wanted a single-payer Medicare for all system.
Whit Ayres, the Republican half of our polling team, points to other data that suggests Obamacare will still be a great issue for Republicans this fall.
WHIT AYRES: First, more people oppose than support Obamacare, as it has been the case in the past. Second, intensity is on the side of opposition and intensity drives voting behaviors. Third, independents oppose Obamacare by 21 points in this survey, and they hold the balance of power in this election.
LIASSON: Thad Boyer, from Sioux City, Iowa, is a good example of why Republicans are so confident. Boyer describes himself as a weak Republican, but...
THAD BOYER: As a blue-collar worker, a law enforcement officer for almost 15 years, there is a part of me that agrees with what Democrats stand for.
LIASSON: Boyer says he could vote for either party this fall and there's one issue will determine his vote.
BOYER: I would say healthcare. If the next candidate wants to stand behind Obamacare, I will go Republican.
LIASSON: In past midterm elections, when control of one or both Houses flipped, there was a big enthusiasm gap between the two parties. In 2006, Democrats had the energy. In 2010, it was Republicans. This year's enthusiasm gap does favor the Republicans but by only seven points.
Twenty-four-year-old Christina Chapman, from Winston Salem, North Carolina, is just the kind of voter Democrats need to turnout this year. Chapman is still on her parents' health care plan. She supports Obamacare and the president.
CHRISTINA CHAPMAN: Well, I tend to put most of the blame, I guess, on the things that is going wrong with there being stalemates in Congress, as opposed to directly being the president's fault.
LIASSON: Like Chapman, 46 percent of likely voters in our poll approve of the president, 51 percent disapprove. That's almost identical to the health care numbers. On the generic ballot, where a hypothetical Democratic candidate runs against a hypothetical Republican, the two parties are virtually tied with the Democrat ahead - 44 to 43 percent.
Stan Greenberg says that's an improvement.
GREENBERG: The president's approval numbers is 46 percent is not a bad number and if, in fact, it continues to edge up. You are not talking about the same kind of numbers when you had 39 percent or 42 percent of approval. So, in the trend of all of that stuff, is moving slowly. And I think this turning point on that Affordable Care Act will have an impact on his performance and also the energy of Democrats.
LIASSON: Whit Ayres doesn't think that will be enough to offset all the structural advantages Republicans have this year.
AYRES: The mid-term election in the sixth year of the president's term has been historically bad for the party in the White House. The demographics of the mid-term elections mean more white and elderly voters, which favor Republicans. And the Senate seats up this year strongly favor Republicans, with seven Democratic-held seats in red states and five in purple or swing states. All Republicans have to do is win half of those seats and they take control of the Senate.
LIASSON: Both Ayres and Greenberg do agree that control of the Senate is the measure of success in 2014.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.
INSKEEP: Take a look at the poll for yourself if you'd like. You can read the full results at NPR.org.