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Obama Fares Worse Among Women after Month-Long Contraception Mandate Battle

Washington Post poll contradicts Washington Post narrative about female voters.

2:37 PM, Mar 12, 2012 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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How's the great contraception mandate battle of 2012 playing out? If you read the Washington Post's news coverage, the issue is supposedly killing Republicans among female voters. But the newest Washington Post/ABC poll tells a different story.

birth control pills

During the first few days of February, about a week before Obama declared a so-called "accommodation" to the contraception/abortifacient mandate, a Washington Post/ABC poll showed Obama's approval rating at 50 percent, with 46 percent of Americans disapproving.

Then, from March 7 to 10--a week into the national media firestorm surrounding Rush Limbaugh's degrading remarks about Georgetown Law student and liberal activist Sandra Fluke--Washington Post/ABC conducted another poll. It found Obama's approval rating at 46 percent, down four points from February, and his disapproval rating at 50 percent, up four points from February.

In February, Obama was leading Mitt Romney, 51 percent to 45 percent among registered voters. In March, Obama was trailing Mitt Romney, 47 percent to 49 percent among registered voters. The Post/ABC pollster finds that Obama "did better among men and women alike last month, and has lost ground slightly among both sexes this month."

While women are 12 points more apt than men to identify themselves as Democrats, that essentially matches the long-term norm. Largely because of that partisan gap, Obama’s approval rating is 9 points higher among women than men, but again this is typical. Compared with last month, disapproval of Obama’s job performance is up slightly among men, and there’s no increase in approval among women. And on vote preference vs. Romney, Obama did better among men and women alike last month, and has lost ground slightly among both sexes this month. In the latest results Romney has a 12-point lead among men who are registered voters; among women, it’s Obama +6.

The Post/ABC poll asked Americans, "Do you think health insurance companies should or should not be required to cover the full cost of birth control for women?" It found that 61 percent of Americans think insurance companies should be required to pay for it. But if "the insurance is provided through a religiously affiliated employer that objects to birth control, however, support for this requirement drops to 49 percent (52 percent of women, 45 percent of men)." (It's worth noting that polls on this issue have varied significantly depending on how the question is asked. When a poll specifies that the "federal government" is the entity requiring employers to pay for birth control coverage, support for the mandate in general is evenly split.) 

The bottom line is that it's not clear at all that the fight over the contraception/abortifacient mandate has hurt Republicans. The Post/ABC pollster attributes Obama's dip in the polls to high gas prices. Of course, the biggest story in February was the mandate, so it's possible that the mandate is actually hurting Obama.

But if you read the Washington Post's report by Karen Tumulty this weekend on the GOP's slide among female voters, you'd think the new mandate was a terrible issue for Republicans. The report originally began with this sentence: "The fragile gains Republicans had been making among female voters have been erased by what in recent weeks has become a national shouting match over reproductive issues, potentially handing President Obama and the Democrats an enormous advantage this fall." The Post then backed up the claim that the events of "recent weeks" had caused the GOP to lose female voters: It noted that women favored Democratic control of Congress by 4 points in a Wall Street Journal poll last summer, but now favor Democrats by 15 points in a new WSJ poll. 

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