Polling on the Mandate

The USCCB may be unified on the contraception mandate, but Catholics aren't. Here's a Public Religion Research Institute poll on the mandate. Overall, 58% of Catholics think insurance should cover contraception. Catholic voters believe so at 52%.The data shows that this is question that cuts differently for different groups: 62% of women and a majority of non-whites support the mandate more strongly than white males. 65% of Millennials approve the mandate, while only 40% of seniors do. As to including schools and hospitals under the mandate, still a majority of Catholics agree with the HHS decision. Among Catholic voters, 45% approve, 52% disapprove, but again, more whites than people of color agree--only 40% of white Catholics approve the mandate, so a large (but unspecified % here) of non-white Catholic voters must approve.Most do not want the mandate applied to parishes, which, of course, is already an exemption under the law as written.A few thoughts:

1. If bishops think this is the "to the ramparts" moment that will rally Catholics together against contraception and (the question at hand) lead them all to consider mandated contraceptive coverage an affront to religious liberty, they seem to be mistaken. It looks like another moment in which the bishops are just out of touch with most Catholics, as they seem to be on the matter of contraception generally. Or, at least so far, they have not made a convincing case to people of good will in either case.2. And, another non-surprise, they seem especially out of touch with women and people of color.3. If bishops hope that this will sway the Catholic electorate against Obama, it will (at best/worst) split the Catholic vote. And that's IF Catholics are tempted to become one-issue voters on this issue, a tack expressly taught against by the bishops in their own voting guide.4. One main reason that Millennials are staying away from the Church in droves is their indifference to an institution that does not, in fact, address issues that are important to them. In a PR sense, this will simply re-inscribe for Millennials that Catholicism is about opposition to things of which they approve--contraception, same-sex relationships, etc.5. Myself, I wish the bishops had started with a strong, unequivocal YES!! to vastly expanded medical coverage, that they'd spoken powerfully for it, perhaps sent letters around to be read in parishes, the whole deal. Back in '09, Reuters estimated that 45,000 Americans die each year for lack of health insurance: isn't this a prime pro-life cause? Not to mention social justice. But they really only get themselves het up when the question is contraception. What do they expect people to think the Church thinks is most important in this matter? THERE'S a scandal.Moral matters are not settled by consensus, to be sure. But this is rapidly becoming merely a political football, and in politics, public opinion counts.

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

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