A new Field Poll on federal health reform has found that Californians support the law by almost exactly the same margin as they did on the day it passed more than a year ago: 52 to 37. Despite a vigorous debate before and after the bill’s passage, a federal election that centered on the issue, and two federal court ruling finding parts of the law unconstitutional, public opinion here is pretty much frozen in place.

One big reason for that is that peoples’ opinion about the law seem to have as much to do with who they are than what the law would do. Democrats and ethnic minorities – both more numerous in California than elsewhere – support the law in large numbers. Republicans oppose it.

It probably is not a surprise that people who say they have benefitted from the parts of the law that have already been implemented like the law the most. But strangely, those who say they have benefitted are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans.

The parts of the law that have taken effect include provisions allowing people to put their adult children on their family policy, or get insurance more easily even if they have a pre-existing condition. The early provisions also limit the ability of insurance companies to rescind coverage or cap benefits. Are these things that help Democrats more than Republicans?

Maybe a little, but more likely, Democrats think they have benefitted from the law because they support it, and Republicans think the bill has made them worse off, or will, because they oppose it.

Which leads to another interesting finding from the poll, which was sponsored by the non-profit Wellness Foundation. The survey of 1,194 registered voters found that the more people know about the law, or think they know about it, the less they like it.

Among people who say they are “very knowledgeable” about the law, just 41 percent support it and 57 percent oppose it. Among those who say they are “somewhat knowledgeable” about the law, 56 percent support it and 39 percent oppose it. But again there is a partisan tilt here. People who say they are very knowledgeable about the law are more likely to be Republicans, and people who say they identify with the Tea Party’s principles are the most likely to say they are very knowledgeable about the law.

Of course, knowing about the law and thinking you know about it are not the same thing. Thirty-six percent of those polled said they thought illegal immigrants would benefit from the law, even though it specifically excludes them from coverage, even if they wanted to pay for it themselves.

If the law survives the challenge in Congress and the courts, its popularity will become a contest between people’s thoughts about the law and their experience.

If people like the benefits that come their way, if they like the idea of bringing the insurance industry into a utility model of regulation while still preserving some private initiative and choice, if they really do get to keep their coverage and their doctor, they will, in the end, like the law.

But if costs increase and choice and the quality of care decline, it won’t matter what political or intellectual baggage people brought to the table. They will blame those problems on the federal law, and probably support its repeal.

Daniel Weintraub is editor of the California Health Report at www.healthycal.org.