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Posted by on Feb 12, 2012 in Health, Politics, Religion | 4 comments

Poll: Catholics Largely Support Obama’s Contraceptive Policy Compromise

A new poll finds that Catholic voters support President Barack Obama’s new — and controversial — contraceptive policy compromise:

Catholic voters largely approve of President Obama’s new policy on contraception, according to a poll released Saturday by groups that support the policy.

Supporters say the poll shows that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and congressional Republicans, who oppose the new policy as an affront to religious freedom, are out of step with the public. The new survey was conducted Friday evening, after Obama announced new “accommodations” for some religious employers.

According to the poll, 57 percent of Catholic voters — and 59 percent of Catholic women — support the mandate Obama outlined Friday. Under the new policy, women who work for institutions like Catholic hospitals and universities can obtain birth control from their insurance company without a co-pay, but their employers don’t have to include contraception in their healthcare plans.

Public Policy Polling conducted the new poll on behalf of a coalition that includes Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. The findings indicate that Obama gained some ground with Catholics by alterning the policy. An earlier PPP poll found that 53 percent of Catholic voters approved of the White House’s original mandate, which required religious employers to provide contraception coverage directly.

Could Andrew Sullivan be right? He argues on The Daily Beast that rather than Obama committing a horrible, dumb political mistake, the way he handled it could be a political trap for Republicans. This poll would suggest (if it’s accurate) that it could turn into one, whether that was Obama’s intent or not. Here is a chunk of Sullivan’s analysis:

Suddenly no-drama Obama was neck deep in the kind of religious warfare he vowed to avoid. Many pundits—led by older white Catholic men, such as Joe Scarborough and my friend Chris Matthews and even the fair-minded liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne—declared his decision on contraception as not only morally wrong but a politically disastrous violation of religious freedom. Suddenly the specter of 2004—when the culture-war issue of same-sex marriage gave Ohio and the entire election to George W. Bush—reemerged, and some conservative Catholic Democrats began to panic. Within the administration, almost all the white Catholic men opposed the decision—from Bill Daley to Leon Panetta. But critically, the support for the decision came from women, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and key adviser Valerie Jarrett chief among them. So Obama didn’t ignite just a culture war but a religious and gender war as well. Welcome to the election focused almost entirely on jobs.

But the conflict-driven headlines and predictions of disaster for Obama are, in my view, deeply misleading. Right now, they are driven both by cable news’s love of a good fight and high ratings and by the Republican primary campaign, in which the candidates, especially Newt Gingrich and Santorum, are desperately battling to unify the evangelical base, which is convinced its faith is somehow under attack. In the longer run, however, I suspect this sudden confluence of kerfuffles will be seen as one of the last gasps of the culture war, not its reignition. That’s especially possible since Obama’s swift walk-back last Friday, when he proposed an utterly sensible compromise, which exempts both churches and other religious institutions that cater to the general public from directly covering or paying for birth control, shifting the coverage requirement to insurance companies. So Catholic organizations will be able to stay out of the contraception question entirely, while contraception for all women will be kept free of charge. Instead of being lose-lose for the president, it became win-win. Most Catholics will be fine with this compromise, as are the Catholic Health Association and Planned Parenthood. But the bishops? They’ve gone out on a very long limb. This could be the moment when the culture-war tide finally turns and the social wedge issues long deployed so effectively by the Republican right begin to come back and bite them.


The more Machiavellian observer might even suspect this is actually an improved bait and switch by Obama to more firmly identify the religious right with opposition to contraception, its weakest issue by far, and to shore up support among independent women and his more liberal base. I’ve found by observing this president closely for years that what often seem like short-term tactical blunders turn out in the long run to be strategically shrewd. And if this was a trap, the religious right walked right into it.

Indeed, I thought the political war over contraception was over years ago.

On the other hand, I also thought that the battle over evolution was over years ago. So what do I know?

A bit more of Sullivan:

And on the issue of contraception itself, studies have shown that a staggering 98 percent of Catholic women not only believe in birth control but have used it. How is it possible to describe this issue as a violation of individual conscience, when no one is forced to use contraception against their will, and most Catholics have already consulted their conscience, are fine with the pill, and want it covered? This is not like abortion, a far, far graver issue…

….In other words, this is a potential political winner for President Obama, not just among liberals, many women, younger voters, and moderates—but among American Catholics! And even more so in light of the pragmatic compromise announced last week, which puts the administration precisely where it should be, and in a much better place than it was before the announcement, and reinforces Obama’s reputation as a man willing to compromise, one of his core strengths among independent voters. I found the original rule a step too far. To my mind, when religious institutions play invaluable roles in helping the poor, curing the sick, and housing the homeless, they should be rewarded, not punished. And within reasonable limits, their right to set their own rules on health-care plans should be respected. One reason they do such great work is their religious convictions. We should celebrate that—and try to balance their views (however wrongheaded we may consider them to be) with other legitimate social goals.

But some Republicans and conservative Catholics have already rejected the compromise.

Of course, the Bishops have rejected Obama’s plan — which leads to the question as to whether these numbers could change. Or whether, in the end, as Sullivan suspects, Obama is as dumb politically as Machiavelli.

Also be sure to read Taylor Marsh’s post HERE.