By Sam Baker - 10/15/12 08:10 PM EDT
President Obama's contraception mandate is helping him enormously with female voters, a new USA Today/Gallup poll says.
The survey found that Mitt Romney has made enormous gains with female voters — the candidates were tied among women who are likely to vote, and Obama had a nine-point lead among registered female voters. Concern over the economy has helped Romney erode what was once a sizable gender gap.
Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have attacked the administration's contraception mandate as an assault on religious liberty. But the USA Today poll indicates that emphasizing the policy could help Obama more than Romney.
A greater emphasis on abortion rights could also help bolster Obama's standing with female voters, according to the USA Today poll. Nearly 40 percent of women cited abortion as the most important election issue for women. And respondents who cited abortion preferred Obama by a 3-1 margin.
"That could signal an opening for Obama among women in the second debate and the final 21 days of the campaign," USA Today said in its write-up of the poll results.
The administration's contraception mandate could also help Obama with women.
Thirty-one percent of female voters said birth control policy will be "extremely important" in influencing their vote. And Obama holds a 21-point advantage over Romney — 56 to 35 percent — on the issue.
The Obama campaign has made the contraception debate a central thrust of its effort to win over female voters. Obama highlights the policy in his stump speech, and he has campaigned with Sandra Fluke, the law student who rose to prominence after being attacked for her support of the administration's mandate.
The administration's policy requires most employers to cover birth control in their employees' health plans without charging a co-pay or deductible. Churches and houses of worship are exempt.
Religious-affiliated institutions like Catholic hospitals do not have to directly offer or pay for contraception coverage; their employees will be able to obtain contraception through the insurance company, still without any cost-sharing.
Several religious institutions are challenging the policy in court.