If one took another perspective on the administration’s contraception mandate one would see implications quite a bit different from 1st Amendment rights. Women’s choice, reproductive rights, or access to birth control, whatever you want to call it, would be the second perspective. But than comes a third perspective. This perspective is more nuanced, more cynical, and ultimately, right.
This third perspective looks at the electoral implication of the administration’s mandate and sees it as purely electoral. There are many third-rails in American politics and since the 1990’s one has reigned supreme among a key group of voters. Contraception and access to it. Polling data from the 90s on indicates that Democrats, especially among single, professional women, have found particular success with this group of voters on the issue.
Single women, according to the 2010 census, are most highly concentrated in major metro areas and their suburbs. These metro areas and suburbs have been trending away from the GOP for the last two decades, particularly because of the shift among female voters. In 1992 H.W. Bush won Bucks County, Philadelphia (an affluent suburb of Philly) with over 60% of the vote and almost 70% of the female vote. Fast forward to 2008 and Obama won Bucks County by over 60% and enjoyed a similar margin win as H.W. with women. This being just one of many examples.
In recent years the gender gap has been significantly increasing. In 2010 the GOP won men 56%-43% but barely won among women 49%-48% (according to National House exit polls). As the GOP coalition has been expanding with an influx of blue-collar male voters the Democratic coalition has been growing with the addition of single, professional women.
In 2010 two particular Senate races showcased this dynamic, Nevada and Colorado. In both CO and NV you had very conservative Republicans, Sharron Angle and Ken Buck, running against moderate Democrats Harry Reid and Michael Bennett. For mpstof the campaigns Bennett and Reid trailed their challengers in the polls. That is until in NV Reid unloaded on several statements Angle had made on race and sex. In CO one of Bennett’s closing attacks was that Buck would take away access to contraception and questioned his view of women in society.
The exit polls from both races do not lie. In CO Buck decisively won the male vote 53%-43%. But his win among men was outdone by Bennett’s win among women 56%-39%. Bennett’s win among single, female voters was even higher. In Nevada Angle won men 48%-46% but was trounced among women 53%-42%. In states the GOP won in 2010 for Senate the GOP candidate either won or lost the female vote by single digits.
Since 2008 the female vote has largely stuck with the president. Despite their votes in 2010 for Republican Congressmen/women these voters have steadily approved of the president whereas independents and men have hit sub-40 approval ratings of the president at times. Furthermore, being consolidated in key metro areas in key states means the Obama administration needed to find a way to galvanize them for 2012. Denver, Philadelphia and its suburbs, ditto Detroit, Las Vegas, etc. all sit in key swing states and the vote totals there have the chance to shift the presidential race.
Thus it appears the WH has centered on the NV and CO strategy of 2010 to court back these voters. Put a red meat issue such as contraception on the table, watch the right and ultra-religious groups (including Catholics who went 54%-45% for the president in 2008) get upset and announce it a “war on religion,” while the White House says all they want to do is provide further access to contraception (nevermind it is free or affordable everywhere in the US). Women will undoubtedly react quite differently than say men or religious groups and this is what the WH is counting on.
The presidential election is likely to be close no matter who the GOP nominee is. The recent uptick in the president’s approval rating and general election polls may make the left feel good but they do not predict the election eight months out. For Obama to win reelection he must reassemble the coalition that got him elected in 2008 and that coalition is heavy on single, affluent women. It appears the White House has decided pursuing female voters with the contraception issue outweighs winning the Catholic vote, the Constitution and the 1st Amendment.