The U.S. Senate votes today on an amendment by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, that not only exempts religious-affiliated institutions from having to cover contraception through health insurance but extends that exemption to any private business that questions contraception on “moral” grounds.
Politically, Republicans apparently believe they have a winner in the issue and a number of conservative pundits have encouraged them in that faith. But every poll I’ve seen tells quite a different story.
The most recent is a newly released CBS News/NY Times poll in which 65 percent of voters back the Obama administration’s requirement that birth-control costs be covered by health insurance. Fifty-nine percent believe that requirement should also apply to religiously affiliated employers.
And among Catholic voters, the ones supposedly so upset that their church’s religious liberty has been “attacked”?
“A new New York Times/CBS News poll has found that 57 percent of Catholic voters supported the requirement for religiously affiliated employers, like hospitals or universities, to cover the full cost of birth control for their employees, while 36 percent opposed it (7 percent said they did not know). There was almost no difference between Catholic and other voters on the question.”
The Obama administration, in other words, is far more in tune with members of the Catholic Church than are the leaders of that venerable institution or the Republican Party. In fact, it’s been fascinating to see how quickly and easily conservatives can convince themselves that this time, this time, they’ve finally got the American people behind them as they rush into political battle, only to look back behind them and find that same small band of followers urging them on against the multitudes.
That’s what happened on the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance, which is why the House Republicans have had to beat such a hasty retreat on those issues in recent days. Positions that they once thought would make them wildly popular have instead become huge burdens that they are trying to shuck as quickly and quietly as possible. And it’s happening now on the contraception issue as well.
In fact, as this contraception issue plays out, the huge “gender gap” I wrote about Monday, with female voters backing Obama by more than 20 points over both Romney and Santorum, will be cemented into place and perhaps even expand. It’s a long way between now and November, but if Republicans want to turn this trend around they better start doing things differently.
And doing things differently just doesn’t come naturally to them.
– Jay Bookman