Daily Contraception Mandate Lie: Public opinion

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

If you read the headlines, you would think that everyone loves the federal contraception mandate except for a few woman-hating Catholic priests and some Republicans engaged in an evil (but frankly inexplicable) War Against Women.

There are two lies buried in this storyline:

1) It's a lie that public opinion is firmly behind the mandate.

2) The polls that show strong majorities supporting the mandate tend to be based on innacurate or incomplete descriptions of the regulation.

Look at these polls from, and you'll see some interesting comparisons.

The WSJ/NBC poll asked about "The federal government requiring employers to offer free birth control coverage as part of their health insurance benefit plans," and found 53% percent report. But then a more complete description of the mandate, "including the morning after pill," dropped that support down to 43%. I'm sure some of that 10 percent was thinking of RU-486, which isn't covered -- but what if they had asked "including sterilization."

When WSJ/NBC described in more detail what has many people so upset, it found only 38% support: "The federal government requiring health insurance plans for the employees at Catholic and other religiously-affiliated hospitals and colleges to offer free birth control coverage and mandate that the health insurance company pays for that cost."

But even without the details of the mandatory coverage, one factor that made a big difference in poll responses, it seems, was whether the pollster disclosed that this rule was a federal requirement.

For instance, Quinnipiac found that 71 percent of women " think that health insurance plans should cover birth control as preventive care for women or not?" but only 47 percent think "the federal government should require private employers to offer free birth control coverage as part of their health insurance benefit plans or not?"

Comparing the polls on that page, the grammar really matters. When asked about "requirements," respondents were more supportive, while they were less supportive when it was put in the active voice: "should the federal government require."

So the truth is that public opinion is split on the mandate.

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