Obama Administration’s Contraception Ruling Fits with Re-Election Needs

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According to a memo published by the moderate think tank, Third Way, and highlighted by The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, the 2012 election will come down to a fight over truly independent voters who cast ballots for Obama in 2008. If Obama can hang on to these voters, he wins. If he cedes too many to Mitt Romney, he loses. Other factors like turnout will come into play, but the document suggests that one of the Obama campaign’s central tasks will be to persuade its former supporters to back the candidate again.

The Obama Administration’s recent decision to require Catholic universities and hospitals to include coverage for contraceptives in their health insurance plans appears to fit into a strategy to do just that.

The Third Way memo, written by Michelle Diggles and Lanae Erickson, says the “Obama Independents” are disproportionately:

-concerned with the economy
-hit hard by the recession
-truly swing voters (more voted for Republican candidates in 2010 than 2008 McCain voters supported Democrats)
-racially diverse
-less religious
-more personally connected to their candidate

This provides some clues to the Obama re-election strategy, namely that the campaign is already courting young, more secular women – exactly the cohort that could be won over by the Administration’s recent decision to require Catholic universities and hospitals to provide employee health insurance plans covering contraception. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute provides more support for this strategy, noting that 58% of Millennials say “religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should have to provide coverage that includes contraception,” while 54% of women feel this way. In addition, the PRPI poll found that more than half (52%) of Catholics agree.

As Kathleen Hennessey and Christi Parsons recently reported in the Los Angeles Times:

Democratic strategists think voters who oppose President Obama because of the birth-control rule wouldn’t have voted for him anyway.


Aligning himself with the interests of women is crucial if Obama is to win a second term. He garnered 53% of women voters in 2008, besting McCain by 13 percentage points. In 2010, when Republicans took control of the House, that edge evaporated and women were essentially evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Recent polling shows the gender gap in Democrats’ favor has reemerged.

Hennessey and Parsons also report that Administration officials are defending the decision on Catholic universities and hospitals by saying it protects the rights of employees of those organizations, many of whom are not Catholic. However, the health insurance plans (and prescription drugs plans) offered by Catholic institutions, like any other employer, are often partly funded by the institutions themselves.

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Lest there be any doubt that the Obama folks see this as a political issue worth highlighting, the campaign just put out a side-by-side comparison of the Massachusetts health plan’s contraception coverage rules and those of the Affordable Care Act. Romneycare/Obamacare – it seems birth control coverage is another issue where it’s hard to see daylight between the two.

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