Our February Religion & Politics Tracking Survey made quite a splash when it was released yesterday. As the American Catholic bishops continue a tense stand-off with the Obama administration over a new regulation that exempts churches, but not religiously affiliated colleges, hospitals and social agencies, from providing no-cost birth control to their employees through their insurance, we asked Americans what they thought of these difficult, nuanced issues. Our findings contributed to a rich debate, in print and online, about whether the Obama administration will lose Catholic supporters because of the controversy.
WOLF BLITZER: The White House, Brianna, is clearly concerned. Catholic leaders can sway a whole lot of Catholic voters out there, many of whom are very important to the president’s reelection. What do voters think about this policy?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Actually there’s a study that just came out by the Public Religion Research Institute. A lot of folks in the White House are pointing to it. It shows that roughly six in 10 Catholics think employers should be required to provide this kind of insurance coverage. Among Catholic voters, which is obviously very important, Wolf, it’s slightly lower, 52 percent. But I think you’re seeing is the White House kind of maybe realized it may be different or impossible to allay some of these concerns of, say, the Catholic bishops, but they’re kind of taking a step back, softening the stance, certainly trying to extend an olive branch to some of those Catholic voters who might be swayed, Wolf.
When asked about the new rule, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday that “those institutions where women of all faiths, many faiths work need to have the same kind of coverage that all other American women have”. A recent poll suggested that 52% of American Catholics believe religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should have to provide coverage that includes contraception.
This provides some clues to the Obama re-election strategy, namely that the campaign is already courting young, more secular women – exactly the cohort that could be won over by the Administration’s recent decision to require Catholic universities and hospitals to provide employee health insurance plans covering contraception. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute provides more support for this strategy, noting that 58% of Millennials say “religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should have to provide coverage that includes contraception,” while 54% of women feel this way. In addition, the PRPI poll found that more than half (52%) of Catholics agree.
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