A Gallup poll out today shows virtually no ill effects to President Obama’s poll numbers among Catholics after a week of controversy about birth control access rules opposed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The poll shows that support for Obama has hovered between 45% and 51% over the past couple months, and after last week’s contretemps, it sits at 46%, not appreciably different than the week before, and within that two-month range. The 46% rating among Catholics is also virtually identical to the 47% approval that Obama holds with Americans overall in this Gallup poll.

Although Catholic Church leaders’ opposition to the requirement dates back to last fall, when the policy was being laid out, the controversy erupted and made headlines in the last 10 days, after the Obama administration announced that religious-based employers would ultimately have to comply. The Obama administration’s rules would have forced organizations affiliated with the church — such as Catholic hospitals, service organizations, and universities — to pay for employee healthcare services that go against their belief that Catholics should not use contraception.

It is possible that practicing Catholics are more likely than nonpracticing Catholics to hew to the church’s teachings on birth control. But both groups — those who attend church every week or nearly every week and those who attend less often — had identical 46% approval ratings of Obama last week. Though both more frequent and less frequent churchgoing Catholics’ approval ratings of Obama were down from the prior week, neither change was statistically meaningful.

We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out over the next several weeks. But the polling, conducted between Feb. 6-12, picked up only the tail end of the President’s accommodation announced on Friday, which would maintain universal access to birth control free of co-pay in insurance coverage, but in cases of religious institutions, require the insurance company to contract with the employee directly for the services. The bishops and most Republicans in Congress still object to the accommodation, but several prominent Catholics – along with Maine Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins – reacted favorably to it. So it’s hard to see how the matter will be a continuing drag on approval for the President. Anyway, it’s hard to see how the issue will dominate candidate preferences in November, rather than, say, the economy.

Senate Republicans will try to attach their broader conscience exemption, authored by Sen. Roy Blunt, to the surface transportation bill, which is fast becoming a Christmas tree for Republican ideological amendments. They also want to attach Keystone XL pipeline language to the highway bill.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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