On January 20, the Obama administration reaffirmed that under the Affordable Care Act, most employers must provide health care plans that cover contraceptives for women free of charge. Religious employers such as churches, synagogues, and mosques are exempt, but hospitals and schools run by religious organizations that employ people of many faiths are not. Catholic clergy have been protesting the decision, asserting that contraception is counter to the teachings of the Catholic faith.
Right-wing media, with Fox News leading the charge, have seized on the ruling as evidence of a supposed "war on religion" that they have long claimed Obama is waging. Desperate to keep this narrative alive, Fox News this morning hyped a Rasmussen Reports poll that purported to show that the "majority" of Americans oppose the contraception rule. But Fox failed to note (though one Fox contributor tried) that two other polls in recent days have found that a majority of Americans do support the rule -- as do a majority of Catholics.
Rasmussen has a history of asking loaded questions to produce Republican-friendly findings; not only did this poll fit that pattern, but it actually asked a question that misleads about the contraception rule.
Fox & Friends began hyping the Rasmussen poll at the top of their show, during a segment in which they attacked the president and his administration for the decision. Co-host Steve Doocy reported the results of the poll, saying:
DOOCY: Rasmussen did a poll, called up 1,000 people, and here's the -- here's some of the results: 50 percent oppose, 39 percent favor it, 10 percent undecided. Interestingly enough, when you get into the small print about it, a plurality of Republican and independent voters as well are against it, and for the White House, that is a problem.
The co-hosts hyped the poll results again in a later segment with Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin. Co-host Brian Kilmeade again cited Rasmussen's findings and said, "In this political season, how does it make political sense for the president to do this?" Malkin replied, "It really doesn't."
Neither of these segments acknowledged, however, that two other recent national polls determined the opposite.
A poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) on February 7 found that 55 percent of Americans agreed that "employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost." The poll found the same was true for a majority of Catholics: "[r]oughly 6-in-10 Catholics (58%) believe that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception." The news release on the poll included this chart:
The poll also found that 52 percent of Catholics agreed that "religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should have to provide coverage that includes contraception."
Another survey released the same day by Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that a "56 percent majority of voters support the decision to require health plans to cover prescription birth control with no additional out-of-pocket fees." The poll found that this was true for a "53 percent majority of Catholic voters" as well. Contrary to Doocy's assertion that "independent voters are against [the decision]," this sentiment was even stronger among Catholics who identify as independents -- 62 percent of them favored the benefit.
The PPP poll also found that a "strong majority (57 percent) of voters think that women employed by Catholic hospitals and universities should have the same rights to contraceptive coverage as other women." Again, the poll found that "a 53 percent majority of Catholics agree with this sentiment, including 60 percent of independents."
Perhaps the reason the polls had different findings from Rasmussen's was because of the wording of the polls. Here's how PRRI worded its survey questions:
Now, as I read some statements, please tell me if you completely agree, mostly agree, mostly DISagree or completely disagree with each one.
All employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost.
There is currently a debate over what kinds of health care plans some religious organizations should be required to provide. Do you think [religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals] should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost, or not?
And here are Rasmussen's:
1* Should health insurance companies be required by law to cover all government-approved contraceptives for women, without co-payments or other charges to the patient?
2* If health insurance companies are required to cover all government-approved contraceptives for women, without any charges to the patient, will that increase the cost of health insurance, decrease the cost of health insurance, or have no impact on the cost of health insurance?
3* The requirement to provide contraceptives for women violates deeply held beliefs of some churches and religious organizations. If providing such coverage violates the beliefs of a church or religious organization, should the government still require them to provide coverage for contraceptives?
Note the use of the term "government-approved contraceptives" and the placement of a question regarding the plan's costs. And the final question is actually asking about something that is not happening (emphasis added): "If providing such coverage violates the beliefs of a church or religious organization, should the government still require them to provide coverage for contraceptives?" As noted above, churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the contraception rule. They won't be required to provide such coverage.
Did Fox mention the PRRI or PPP polls at all? Well, one contributor, Juan Williams, attempted to do so. During a segment with Doocy and fellow contributor Andrea Tantaros, Williams said, "Most Catholics agree with what the Obama administration is doing ... In fact, they have even a religious poll right now this morning that indicates 52 percent of Catholics support it." Doocy interrupted Williams and repeated the Rasmussen findings, and both he and Tantaros tried to dismiss Williams.
Had Doocy allowed Williams to elaborate, he would have been forced to deal with facts that Fox is desperate to avoid. Here's what Williams said earlier on Fox Business' Imus in the Morning:
WILLIAMS: Let's talk about this Catholic church controversy.
DON IMUS (host): Oh, good. That's what I was going to bring up.
WILLIAMS: Because I think it's a total fraud.
IMUS: You do? Tell me why.
WILLIAMS: Well, I just think it's manufactured. I think it's one of these things where it fits with a conservative agenda that they're looking for something, especially with all the good news that's been coming for Obama. And I think they found this, and what they picked up to be a culture war wedge issue on contraception and the church and all this. And it just isn't working, because if you look at the polls -- and I don't care whose poll you look at. You can even look at religious organization's polls, a clear majority of Americans -- almost three-quarters of Americans -- but even a clear majority of voting Catholics, more than 50 percent, say that these charities and hospitals and clinics should provide coverage for contraception.
Yet Doocy and Tantaros tried to talk over Williams when he brought up polls that showed the majority of Americans disagree with Fox News' claims that the ruling is a "war on religion." Watch: