The good folks at the Pew Research Center recently released the results of a survey that gives us some insight into the public reaction to the contraceptive mandate.

Conservatives are more likely to think that religious organizations should be exempted, while liberals favor requiring contraceptive coverage. No surprise there. Religious people are more likely to support an exemption, the non-religious less so. Again, no surprise.

One interesting piece of data: the supposed concession announced on Friday has not changed very many minds. “The survey shows,” we read in the overview, “little difference in opinions among people interviewed before the administration’s proposed modification on Feb. 10 and those interviewed afterwards.”

In other words, the Obama administration still has a problem. Among those who have heard about the controversy, 73% of Republicans think an exemption should be given. Democrats go the other way, with only 29% wanting an exemption. Independents are split, 46% favoring an exemption, 48% supporting the contraceptive mandate.

As I said, that’s not surprising. But no matter how you slice the data, it’s bad politics for Obama. His decision has created a controversial issue where there had been no issue. What, one wonders, would have been the fall-out of allowing a broad exemption for religious organizations from the outset? I don’t think anybody but the most engaged (and reliable) liberals would notice or care. By contrast, the intransigence of the administration has generated a high level of reaction from his adversaries, a split in independents, and unhappiness in nearly a third of his usual supporters.

I find myself puzzled. Why make any voters angry over this issue? An imperative of justice? We’re talking about middle class women who have employer provided health insurance, not the poor. And the pill costs about as much as one diet Pepsi per day. Preventive health? Why not free red wine for middle-aged men, a habit that researchers have shown is very, very effective in reducing heart attacks?

My intuition is that the politically counter-productive (sic) contraceptive mandate reflects a deep and perhaps not fully articulate commitment to sexual freedom among elite liberals. (Inarticulate because many really do believe all the rhetoric about “women’s health,” which makes no sense unless undergirded by a commitment to sexual freedom as a key element of mental health.)

And the media calls social conservatives extremists?

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