Americans don't know what's in the Affordable Care Act. Some don't know that the law was passed at all. Which explains in large part why it remains, as a whole, unpopular. That's despite the fact that when the individual provisions are explained and polled, they are extremely popular (with the exception of the mandate).
So why do so many people not know what's in the law, and thus don't like it? Because the traditional media utterly failed in explaining it. Instead of talking about the legislation itself, the media talked about the process and the political fights. And it talked about it using the Republicans' framing. That's not just a liberal's complaint. It's the conclusion of researchers from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Most of the coverage of the health care reform bill focused on the politics as opposed to reporting on what the bill would do or the state of health care. Fully 49% of the coverage focused on politics and strategy, as well as the legislative process. Less than a quarter of the coverage (23%) outlined what the various proposals would do, and 9% of the coverage focused on the state of the health care system in the U.S. [...]"Death panels" and Koch brothers-orchestrated teabagger tantrums at town hall meetings were sexy and made for easy coverage, so that's what we got. As usual. Politics and strategy is what the traditional media always resorts to because it's easier than than real reporting, real analysis, and actual thinking about and explaining policy issues.
Which side got the better of this highly politically oriented coverage? An analysis by PEJ of the language used in the media (PEJ research) reveals that opponents of the reform won the so-called “messaging war” in the coverage. Terms that were closely associated with opposition arguments, such as “government run,” were far more present in media reports than terms associated with arguments supporting the bill, such as “pre-existing conditions.”
To conduct the analysis, researchers examined and identified three of the most common concepts being pushed by opponents of the bill and the three concepts being promoted by supporters and then examined the news coverage for the presence of those concepts and language. The concepts used by opponents were nearly twice as common as those used by supporters.
What Americans heard about the Affordable Care Act was the Right's message that it was bad, and that's what the American public generally believes, even though they strongly support most of the provisions of the law—when, if, they actually hear about them. The Right and the traditional media teamed up to make sure that wasn't going to happen.