NYT Poll Blows Away Slanted Assumptions of NYT Reporters: Social Conservatism Not Hurting GOP With Women

The New York Times focused on the "treacherous political ground" occupied by President Obama as the election draws closer, while proving wrong pro-Obama assumptions made in recent stories by Times reporters Susan Saulny and Jackie Calmes, in Tuesday's front-page poll analysis "Obama's Rating Falls as Poll Reflects Volatility," by Jim Rutenberg and Marjorie Connelly. But it also buried some interesting findings that defied the liberal conventional wisdom about social conservatism and women voters.

Despite improving job growth and an extended Republican primary fight dividing his would-be opponents, President Obama is heading into the general election season on treacherous political ground, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

At a time of rising gas prices, heightened talk of war with Iran and setbacks in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama’s approval rating dropped substantially in recent weeks, the poll found, with 41 percent of respondents expressing approval of the job he is doing and 47 percent saying they disapprove -- a dangerous position for any incumbent seeking re-election.

But some interesting poll answers were buried. The responses to poll questions #73 and #74, asking whether employers and religious groups should be forced to cover birth control for their employees, showed that most respondents favor employers be allowed to opt out of covering birth control for moral reasons (51% were in favor of the opt out, while 40% favored making coverage mandatory. The gap grew when the question was narrowed down to "religiously affiliated employers" like hospitals (57% were in favor of the opt out, 36% in favor of the mandate).

But the Times' poll story devalued the insight in a vague last paragraph, suggesting only that women were "split" on the issue. The Times hid the actual gender breakdown in a graphic (h/t Mickey Kaus via Matt Sheffield). As Kaus puts it:

If the Times says women were “split,” you know that must mean they were actually narrowly against the NYT‘s preferred position. Sure enough, when asked, “Should health insurance plans for all employees have to cover the full cost of birth control for female employees or should employers be able to opt out for moral or religious reasons?” women favored opting out by a 46-44 margin. The margin increased to a decisive 53-38  for “religiously affiliated employers, such as a hospital or university.”

The Times has pushed hard on the idea that the debate over birth control and abortion is hurting the party among women. Yet the actual poll data contradicted anti-Republican anecdotes forwarded by Times reporter Susan Saulny on Sunday suggesting "centrist women" were abandoning the GOP and fleeing to Obama.

CBS News broke the poll results from Republican primary voters down by male and female and found that, despite the liberal media insinuation that the issues of birth control and abortion were scaring away women voters, Republican women were actually breaking toward socially conservative candidate Rick Santorum over Mitt Romney by a strong 41%-27% margin. (Men went for Romney over Santorum 32%-27%.) The Times didn't mention Santorum's success among women in its front-page story, only in a "Caucus" post Monday evening.

Rutenberg and Connelly go on to rebut the paper's previous assumptions that the issues were hurting the GOP among women:

In the head-to-head matchups, Mr. Obama also maintained much of the advantage he had built in the last year among important constituencies, including women, although he lost some support among women over the past month, even as the debate raged over birth control insurance coverage.

The last paragraph contained the vague "split" language:

In recent weeks, there has been much debate over the government’s role in guaranteeing insurance coverage for contraception, including for those who work for religious organizations. The poll found that women were split as to whether health insurance plans should cover the costs of birth control and whether employers with religious objections should be able to opt out.

Still, the actual data in this story makes Sunday's lead story by Jackie Calmes on Obama's outreach to women look anecdotal and quite slanted:

President Obama’s re-election campaign is beginning an intensified effort this week to build support among women, using the debate over the new health care law to amplify an appeal that already appears to be benefiting from partisan clashes over birth control and abortion....The campaign is trying to use the political climate to regain the traditional Democratic advantage among women, even as moderate Republican and independent women voice disenchantment with the Republican focus on social issues....Now nonpartisan polls suggest that Republicans are the ones who have been hurt as they have kept the issue alive.

Or maybe not.