Two new polls released on Tuesday indicate the contraception-coverage controversy currently roiling the White House might not be as politically damaging as critics have claimed.
The Obama administration’s decision to make all insurers provide birth control free of charge to patients drew a firestorm of criticism, spearheaded by the Catholic Church and Republican leaders who said it interfered with religious objections to contraception. The issue has become a centerpiece of the GOP presidential campaign.
By Friday, Obama announced that insurance companies -- not the religious groups themselves -- would cover the cost of contraception. It did little to quell criticism, but the White House said it was not meant to do so.
And it appears the issue isn’t a clear political loser for Obama: A poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reports that the issue closely divides the American public. Of Americans who have heard of the controversy, 44 percent said the religious groups should be required to cover contraception. Forty-eight percent of Americans said religious employers should be exempted from providing birth control as part of their health insurance coverage for workers.
Roughly six in 10 Americans have heard about the exemption, the poll found.
Among Catholics, the numbers are far worse for Obama: 55 percent say an exemption should be granted, compared to 39 percent who don’t.
But even if they disagree with the president, they have yet to let it affect their overall view of him. A Gallup poll also released on Tuesday showed the president’s standing among Catholics last week stood at 46 percent, just a three-point drop from the previous week. That was nearly the same level of support Obama enjoyed among non-Catholics, which stood at 47 percent.
The contraception mandate is a sensitive issue for Democrats because Catholics are typically a swing vote in general elections. The disgruntlement of several high-profile Obama allies, including Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and former DNC Chairman Tim Kaine, who is running for Senate in Virginia, proved Obama’s original decision had taken a toll on the community.
But Tuesday’s polls cast doubt on whether the issue will be an effective political wedge for Republicans in the fall.
The Pew poll surveyed 1,501 adults from Feb. 8 through Feb. 12 and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points. It sampled 337 Catholics with a sample error of 6.5 percentage points.
Gallup surveyed 775 Catholics from Feb. 6 through Feb. 12, with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.