The headlines for most news stories on public support┬ástate that a majority of the public support the Obama administration’s policy on contraception coverage. That’s not quite right. Depending on how you slice and dice it, it could be a majority, but it could also be as low as 12 percent or as high as 100 percent.

At first glance, it may look like a majority of the public supports the Obama policy. A recent PRRI poll had 52 percent of the public supporting that all corporations and businesses, including religiously-affiliated hospitals and colleges, should be required to provide contraception coverage. A Kaiser poll found a similar percentage (55 percent) backed this requirement for private corporations whose owners had religious objections to the coverage. So, most people like the administration policy, right?

Not so fast.

The administration’s requirement does not apply to churches and other religious communities. But four-in-ten Americans object to this exemption. They want all employers—including churches—to provide contraception coverage. Most journalists treat this group as supporting the administration’s policy, but this group doesn’t. Like other Americans, they like some of it and don’t like other parts of the policy.

Seeing a majority of Americans as backing the administration makes sense only if you see the issue as religious exemption vs. not. But if you view it as a questions of whether the the public backs the entire policy, then only about one-in-eight Americans like the whole policy, kit and caboodle.

Breaking down polls

Breaking down support for each part of the administration’s policy on requiring employers to provide health insurance that includes contraceptions coverage. Graph by Corner of Church & State, an RNS blog. Source: PRRI and Kaiser Health Tracking polls.


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

To break this down,

About 40% of Americans are in the NO REQUIREMENT category. These Americans think the administration’s policy goes too far. They don’t want any business to be required to provide contraception coverage.

But about 40% of Americans are in the NO EXEMPTION category. This group thinks that Obama’s policy doesn’t go far enough. All employers, churches included, must provide insurance that covers contraception.

The 20% in the middle is split. Most want exemptions for churches only; some want exemptions for all religious groups.

Those reporting that a majority of the public likes the policy are assuming that if you like part of the policy, then you support all of it (you just have to ignore the pesky liberals who don’t think it goes far enough).

So, let’s count up all the people who like at least some of the policy.

Those 40% who don’t want any requirement? Well, at least they like that churches aren’t required to cover contraception.

Those who want an exemption for religious groups don’t get exactly what they want, but most corporations are under the mandate and churches are exempt; so, they get most of what they want. Add another eight percent or so.

Of course, those 12 percent who like the entire policy are happy. The sum is now 60% of the public.

Finally, there are those who don’t think the administration goes far enough. They love that most groups must provide coverage. So, add another 40%.

By my math, that’s 100 percent support.

Give or take the margin of error.

Polling on this type of policy is notoriously difficult. It has many different aspects: religious freedom, government regulation, Obamacare, and reproductive rights. When people are asked about support for one policy, is that support in comparison to the policy pre-2010 or to some other compromise policy? It’s too complicated for the average American. We need much better polls before we can really describe public support for or against the policy.

Categories: Beliefs

Tags: , , , , ,

Tobin Grant

Tobin Grant

@TobinGrant blogs for Religion News Service at Corner of Church and State, a data-driven conversation on religion and politics. He is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

2 Comments

    • Ironically it was the attempts by the anti-gay crowd to ban gay marriage which accelerated its acceptance legally.

      Had they just done nothing, there is little likelihood many states would have passed marriage equality laws. Legislative lethargy would have kept such things out of the state houses for decades. However by being spiteful sneaky types and using the legislature to foreclose the possibility with various bans, they opened the door to judicial attack under the 14th Amendment.

      Go figure. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.