It’s interesting, isn’t it? This election cycle was supposed to be dominated by jobs and the economy, but, lately, social issues have saturated the news cycle. No less than the unemployment numbers, they work to the detriment of the president. The public just isn’t particularly happy about the direction we’re headed as a society — at least according to a recent Pew poll that explores Americans’ reactions to last week’s federal court decision to strike down a same-sex marriage ban and the to the president’s contraception mandate and subsequent “accommodation.”
According to the poll, more Americans express negative than positive reactions to a California appeals court ruling that struck down Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the Golden State:
More than four-in-ten (44%) say they are disappointed (31%) or angry (13%). Just a third (33%) say they are pleased (20%) or very happy (13%). About one-in-five (22%) volunteer that they have none of these reactions (15%) or have no opinion (7%).
A majority of Republicans (58%) say they are disappointed (39%) or angry (20%) about the court decision. Just 21% are pleased (15%) or very happy (6%). Democrats, on balance, have a positive reaction to the court’s ruling: 46% are either pleased (27%) or very happy (19%), while 34% are either disappointed (26%) or angry (8%). Independents’ reactions mirror those of the general public, with 42% expressing disappointment (29%) or anger (13%) and 33% saying they are pleased (20%) or very happy (13%).
How’s that bad for the president, who ostensibly opposes gay marriage but says his views on the issue are evolving? Most voters suspect he actually supports gay marriage and that his rhetoric is a thin veil. They recognize that he’s trying to play the issue both ways. The Prop 8 decision — and, indeed, anything that keeps the issue in the public eye — is liable to make voters of all stripes impatient with the president’s politicking. Those who support traditional marriage will grow increasingly impatient with the president’s unwillingness to stand up for it. Those who support same-sex marriage will grow increasingly impatient with the president’s unwillingness to stand up for it.
Meanwhile, the Pew poll confirms other research that suggests voters are unimpressed with the president’s contraception mandate and totally unfazed by his much-touted “accommodation”:
About six-in-ten Americans (62%) have heard about the proposed federal rule that would require employers, including most religiously affiliated institutions, to cover birth control as part of their health care benefits. Among those aware of the issue, opinion is closely divided over whether these institutions should be given an exemption to the rule if they object to the use of contraceptives: 48% support an exemption and 44% say they should be required to cover contraceptives like other employers. …
The Obama administration announced Feb. 10 that it would modify the mandate in response to criticism that the rule would force religious organizations to violate their religious beliefs in providing contraception coverage. The survey shows little difference in opinions among people interviewed before the administration’s proposed modification on Feb. 10 and those interviewed afterwards.
Those numbers aren’t quite as decisive as the numbers about Prop 8, but they still suggest Obama blundered with the mandate; he doesn’t have nearly the support he needs to ram this down the throats of suddenly convicted Catholic bishops and those sympathetic to the Church’s cause. As Michael Gerson writes, the effects of Obama’s decision on this will linger through the campaign.
The president might have just ensured that this won’t be the jobs and the economy election, after all. The trick for the GOP candidate will be to incorporate these issues into the campaign in just the right way, adequately reminding voters that the president is in the wrong on social issues, too, but then quickly returning to his biggest vulnerabilities of high unemployment and out-of-control spending.