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Opposition to health law eases in poll ; Amid effort to repeal, 30% strongly against

As lawmakers shaken by the shooting of a colleague return to the health care debate, an Associated Press-GfK poll finds that raw feelings over President Obama's overhaul have subsided.

Ahead of a vote on repeal in the Republican-led House of Representatives this week, strong opposition to the law stands at 30 percent, close to the lowest level registered in AP-GfK surveys dating from September 2009.

The nation is divided over the law, but the strength and intensity of the opposition appear diminished. The law expands coverage to more than 30 million uninsured and would require, for the first time, that most people in the United States carry health insurance.

The poll finds that 40 percent of those surveyed said they support the law, while 41 percent oppose it. Just after the November congressional elections, opposition stood at 47 percent, and support was 38 percent.

As for repeal, only about one in four say they want to do away with the law completely. Among Republicans, support for repeal has dropped sharply, from 61 percent after the elections to 49 percent now.

Also, 43 percent say they want the law changed so it does more to re-engineer the health care system. Fewer than one in five say it should be left as it is.

House GOP leaders say they're working to keep this week's debate -- and expected vote Wednesday -- from degenerating into a shouting match, but it depends on the Democrats, too. Republicans want a thoughtful discussion about substantive policy differences, said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 GOP leader. The AP-GfK poll was under way when the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., took place Jan. 8 in Tucson.

Opposition to the law remains strongest among Republicans. Seventy-one percent of them say they're against it, compared with 35 percent of independents and 19 percent of Democrats. Republicans won back control of the House partly on a promise to repeal what they dismissively term as "Obamacare."

Nearly 6 in 10 oppose the law's requirement that people carry health insurance except in cases of financial hardship. Starting in 2014, people will have to show that they're covered either through an employer, a government program, or under their own plan.

The individual mandate started out as a Republican idea during an earlier health care debate in the 1990s. More recently, Massachusetts enacted such a requirement under GOP Gov. Mitt Romney and the Democratic State Legislature. Nowadays, most conservatives are against it, and GOP state attorneys general are suing to have the mandate overturned as unconstitutional.

Other major provisions of the law, including a requirement that insurers accept people with pre-existing medical conditions, got support from half or more of the public in the poll.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Jan. 5-10 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved land line and cell phone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

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