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N2K: North Carolina and the Hispanic Vote

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May 8, 2011, 8:16 p.m.

A High Point Univ. poll; con­duc­ted 9/25-30; sur­veyed 400 adults; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 4.9% (re­lease, 10/8). Tested: Sen. Richard Burr (R), ‘02 can­did­ate/Sec/State Elaine Mar­shall (D) and busi­ness­man/mo­tiv­a­tion­al speak­er Mike Beitler (L).

Gen­er­al Elec­tion Match­up

R. Burr 45% E. Mar­shall 31 M. Beitler 4 Un­dec 18

Burr As Sen.

Ap­prove 37% Dis­ap­prove 28

(For more from this poll, please see today’s NC In The States story.)

It’s too early to know for sure what the fal­lout will be from the fight over the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed — and, more re­cently, com­prom­ised — re­quire­ment for re­li­giously af­fil­i­ated in­sti­tu­tions to provide health in­sur­ance that cov­ers con­tra­cep­tion. A week ago, be­fore the flap, a string of pos­it­ive eco­nom­ic news had helped Obama reach a 49 per­cent Gal­lup job-ap­prov­al rat­ing. There was 45 per­cent dis­ap­prov­al in the Feb. 6-8 Gal­lup three-night mov­ing av­er­age, his highest Gal­lup ap­prov­al rat­ing since mid-June. In the next few days, Gal­lup tracks re­por­ted ap­proves-dis­ap­proves of 48 to 46 per­cent for both Feb. 7-9 and 8-10. Then, about the time the con­tro­versy erup­ted, Obama’s ap­prov­al dropped three points to 45 ap­prov­ing, with 48 dis­ap­prov­ing in the Feb. 9-11 track. On Monday, Gal­lup re­por­ted 46 per­cent ap­prov­ing, with 47 per­cent dis­ap­prov­ing in its Feb. 10-12 rat­ing. The ap­prov­al was up a point, and dis­ap­prov­al dropped one. With nightly track­ing, it’s al­ways prudent to watch for sev­er­al days be­fore draw­ing a con­clu­sion. But the latest num­bers sug­gest that Obama took a hit, al­though it’s hardly a free-fall.

This was al­ways go­ing to be a fight over which side of the con­tro­versy did a bet­ter job of fram­ing the is­sue. If the fo­cus was on con­tra­cep­tion, Obama and his team would cer­tainly come out ahead. In par­tic­u­lar, young­er wo­men, es­pe­cially single wo­men, are one of the best demo­graph­ics for him. With­in the Demo­crat­ic Party, the chal­lenge is get­ting more of them to vote.

On the oth­er hand, if this fight be­came per­ceived as largely one over re­li­gious free­dom, re­quir­ing in­sti­tu­tions af­fil­i­ated with the Cath­ol­ic Church to pay for ser­vices fun­da­ment­ally at odds with church doc­trine, that’s a dif­fer­ent story, and it’s one much more prob­lem­at­ic for Obama and Demo­crats. Keep­ing in mind that Demo­crats were once the party of choice for Cath­ol­ics, at least among whites, it is now al­most en­tirely a sec­u­lar party. In­deed, among white voters, fre­quency of church at­tend­ance, re­gard­less of af­fil­i­ation, is highly pre­dict­ive of vot­ing. The more fre­quently white voters at­tend church, the more likely they are to vote Re­pub­lic­an. Those who in­fre­quently or rarely at­tend church are far more as­so­ci­ated with vot­ing Demo­crat­ic.

The polit­ic­al choice faced by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on wheth­er to push the ini­tial rule re­minded me of something that happened years ago (the names of the state and the elec­ted fig­ures in­volved have been left out to keep things fo­cused on the ba­sic ques­tion). A con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate for the U.S. Sen­ate took on a lib­er­al in­cum­bent Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or in a fairly lib­er­al state. The in­cum­bent Demo­crat sup­por­ted a right to late-term abor­tions, a po­s­i­tion that was ana­thema to the GOP chal­lenger. While the state’s voters over­all were far more sup­port­ive of the pro-choice side of the abor­tion is­sue than the pro-life side, polls showed that late-term abor­tions were far more con­tro­ver­sial. When the GOP chal­lenger in­sisted on us­ing the late-term abor­tion is­sue, the GOP Sen­ate cam­paign com­mit­tee chair­man strenu­ously ad­vised the chal­lenger not to push that is­sue. The older and wiser party lead­er, I am told, ex­plained to the chal­lenger that if he could some­how build high walls around the late-term abor­tion is­sue and keep the fight con­tained there, it might be a win­ner. But the lead­er cau­tioned that it was im­possible to build those walls high enough: It would spill out and in­ev­it­ably be­come a fight over abor­tion writ large, mak­ing it a loser. The end of the story is that the chal­lenger chose to use the is­sue in ad­vert­ising any­way, and it soon grew to be­come a fight over abor­tion. The in­cum­bent Demo­crat nar­rowly won.

The White House clearly could not keep this is­sue con­tained either, and it star­ted a firestorm that was big­ger, I sus­pect, than an­ti­cip­ated.

But there is a second point worth not­ing: This fight totally shif­ted the fo­cus away from a flurry of pos­it­ive eco­nom­ic news that had pushed Obama’s num­bers high­er and seemed to bright­en his reelec­tion pro­spects. Why pick a new fight when the lead weight that has hung around your neck is be­ing lightened?

This should also be a re­mind­er that the elec­tion is just un­der nine months away. Those who said that Pres­id­ent Obama had sud­denly be­come a strong fa­vor­ite for reelec­tion, be­cause the eco­nomy seemed to be turn­ing around, ig­nored the fact that there is a long time for the eco­nomy to move up or down. Noth­ing re­mains con­stant in polit­ics for nine months.

If you think of the pres­id­ent’s reelec­tion out­look on a red-light (likely lose), yel­low-light (highly com­pet­it­ive), and green-light (likely to win) basis, the eco­nomy for most of last year was such that there was a red light on for Obama’s pro­spects. While no one knows what will hap­pen between now and Novem­ber, his situ­ation has im­proved to a yel­low light. This po­s­i­tions him bet­ter, but it hardly gets him out of the woods. This re­cent con­tra­cep­tion con­tro­versy should be a re­mind­er that there is still a lot of time and a lot of fights left, giv­ing sup­port­ers on either side the op­por­tun­ity to de­clare vic­tory or throw in the tow­el.

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