The Supreme Court will begin hearing three days of arguments in challenges to the health care law enacted in 2010. A central issue is the provision of the law requiring people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.

A 56% majority of the public disapproves of this particular requirement; 41% approve of the mandate, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted March 7-11.

Opposition to the mandate follows the same contours as overall opinion about the health care law. Republicans are much more opposed than Democrats and independents, and blacks and young people more supportive than other groups. In addition, college graduates are divided over the individual mandate (49% approve, 49% disapprove) but are more supportive of it than are people with less education.

A close examination suggests that opinions about the “individual mandate” may not be firm. The survey question asked to respondents mentioned both the financial penalty to be assessed for failure to purchase insurance and the financial assistance the government will provide to those who cannot afford a policy. Levels of support for the provision were highly sensitive to which aspect of the law was mentioned last.

Among those for whom the question ended with the reference to financial help, opinion is evenly divided (47% approve, 49% disapprove). But among those who heard about the penalty last, most disapprove of the provision (63% disapprove, 34% approve).

The public is evenly divided about the legislation as a whole. Just under half (47%) of Americans support it, while 45% disapprove. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.