02.19.12 5:00 AM ET
In Polls, Obama Wins on Contraception Compromise, Catholics Hold Steady
The compromise that President Obama offered last Friday to Catholic leaders regarding the religious exemption for contraception coverage is not only a reasonable solution to the situation, it is also a political win for Obama.
Obama announced last Friday that he would make an “accommodation” to nonprofit religious-affiliated organizations such as hospitals and universities, permitting them to be exempt from the requirement in his health-care law that says contraception must be included in all health-insurance plans. Female employees could obtain it directly from the insurance companies, with no increase in their premium.
The Obama administration initially said that only churches with a moral objection to pharmacological birth control would not have to provide that coverage to employees. This was met with outcry, as both Catholic and non-Catholic organizations said that this exemption was too narrow and an infringement on religious freedom.
Obama’s compromise received a mixed reaction from Catholic groups, but U.S. bishops weighed in and announced their opposition to any compromise. They’re pushing for an end to the birth-control mandate.
Meanwhile, both the Republican presidential candidates and the Republicans in Congress have slammed Obama for his decision, decrying his “attack on religious freedom,” and have vowed to overturn the requirement.
But an objective assessment shows that this compromise is probably a net political win for the Obama administration.
An examination of the data shows that there has been no slippage in support for Obama from Catholics. A Gallup survey released Tuesday found that 46 percent of Catholics approve of the job Obama was doing as president last week, compared to 49 percent the prior week—a change that is within the margin of sampling error.
Indeed, there is no difference in opinion between practicing Catholics and nonpracticing Catholics. Both those who attend church every week or almost every week and those who attend less often gave Obama identical approval ratings last week, at 46 percent each.
Virtually all Catholic women (98 percent) have used contraception, according to a study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute last year. And a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute before Obama announced the compromise found that 58 percent of Catholics support Obama’s initial requirement that employers provide employees with health-care plans that cover contraception.
Obama’s compromise takes this politically charged issue off the table for mainstream Americans, most of whom side with Obama. A Fox News poll conducted last week before Obama’s Friday announcement found that 61 percent of voters believe employer health plans should be required to cover birth control for women, while 34 percent disagreed. Among women, two thirds approved of the requirement.
As Republicans continue to talk about social issues, they are isolating themselves and moving to the right of the American electorate. By ignoring the issues that poll after poll show voters care about the most—the economy, jobs, and the budget—they are making themselves less relevant.
This comes as Romney is slipping and Santorum is increasing his support. Santorum has pulled even with Romney nationwide among Republican voters in light of his victories last week, further dividing and polarizing a Republican Party that has still not addressed the central issues facing the country.