Why the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Decision Could Be Good News for Democrats

It could help fire up a hard-to-reach voter demographic.

Demonstrators rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby March 25, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Emma Roller
June 30, 2014, 7:25 a.m.

The Su­preme Court just ruled 5-4 in fa­vor of Hobby Lobby, and thereby held that some busi­nesses may claim re­li­gious ex­emp­tion and not fol­low Obama­care’s con­tra­cep­tion-cov­er­age man­date.

In the run-up to a sum­mer where midterm cam­paign­ing will be­gin in earn­est, this may not be the worst thing for Demo­crats.

Un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act, em­ploy­ers are re­quired to provide con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age to their em­ploy­ees, free of charge, as a pre­vent­ive health ser­vice. Two busi­nesses — Hobby Lobby and Con­es­toga Wood Spe­cial­ties — claimed the man­date vi­ol­ated their First Amend­ment right to prac­tice re­li­gion, and suc­cess­fully took their case to the Su­preme Court.

As Sam Baker wrote last week, this rul­ing may have little ef­fect for many em­ploy­ers — par­tic­u­larly large com­pan­ies — be­cause con­tra­cept­ive cov­er­age is pop­u­lar and cheap in com­par­is­on to an em­ploy­ee get­ting preg­nant. By en­cour­aging com­pan­ies to of­fer health be­ne­fits like free con­tra­cept­ive cov­er­age, the free mar­ket can work to job seekers’ ad­vant­age.

Still, Demo­crats and oth­ers who sup­port the man­date are already fum­ing at the de­cision. “This de­cision takes money out of the pock­ets of wo­men and their fam­il­ies and al­lows for-profit em­ploy­ers to deny ac­cess to cer­tain health care be­ne­fits based on their per­son­al be­liefs,” said Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Debbie Wasser­man Schultz in a state­ment after the de­cision.

But that an­ger may ac­tu­ally work in Demo­crats’ fa­vor, come fall, in court­ing the votes and par­ti­cip­a­tion of single fe­male voters.

Single wo­men make up one of the fast­est grow­ing voter demo­graph­ics in the U.S. — they now com­prise a quarter of the elect­or­ate. A re­cent Stan Green­berg poll pos­its that un­mar­ried wo­men can “make or break” the 2014 elec­tions. And, as Mara Li­asson wrote in May, they are firmly in Demo­crats’ camp. But Demo­crats have a prob­lem: Like most every­one else in the elect­or­ate, young wo­men are less likely to turn out to vote in midterm elec­tions. A Su­preme Court case doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily change that: Get­ting young fe­male voters fired up about a de­cision is one thing; get­ting them to vote is an­oth­er.

Luck­ily, con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age is an is­sue young wo­men care about. A March poll con­duc­ted by Hart Re­search As­so­ci­ates (and com­mis­sioned by Planned Par­ent­hood) found that a large ma­jor­ity of fe­male voters — 81 per­cent — be­lieve pre­scrip­tion birth con­trol should be covered as a pre­vent­ive health ser­vice, at no ad­di­tion­al cost to pre­scribers.

For single wo­men, birth-con­trol cov­er­age presents a trin­ity of is­sues they care about — health care, re­pro­duct­ive is­sues, and pay equity (after all, this is an is­sue that men don’t really have to worry about). The Hobby Lobby de­cision may not be a sil­ver bul­let, but it could be enough to en­er­gize sup­port among fe­male voters who are sud­denly wor­ried that their em­ploy­ers could stop cov­er­ing their birth con­trol.

Fear is al­most al­ways a bet­ter polit­ic­al mo­tiv­at­or than pos­it­iv­ity. Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an fun­drais­ing groups of­ten suc­cess­fully use scare tac­tics to get sup­port­ers to donate money, and they’re now ramp­ing up their on­line so­li­cit­a­tions more than dur­ing any pre­vi­ous cycle.

Young wo­men may not be the well-heeled donors the Demo­crat­ic Party needs to buy up beau­c­oup tele­vi­sion ad time in the midterms. But ask­ing young wo­men for a $5 con­tri­bu­tion — less than a grande latte at Star­bucks! — to fight the Re­pub­lic­ans who sup­por­ted the Hobby Lobby de­cision could be Demo­crats’ way in­to their hearts and wal­lets.

And, de­pend­ing on how tone-deaf the Re­pub­lic­an re­sponse to the de­cision sounds, they could be fight­in’ words for a chron­ic­ally un­der­rated sub­set of voters.

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