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
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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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