Is Obama hostile towards religion? That’s the subtext of many of the right’s attacks on the president, and in some cases this argument is made explicitly. Mitt Romney recently seized on the birth control fight to make the unhinged claim that the Obama administration is guilty of “the most outrageous assault on religious liberty in American history.”
But some interesting new polling out from Pew Research suggests only a small minority of Americans buy the notion that the administration is hostile towards religion:
Opinions about whether the Obama administration is friendly toward religion have shifted modestly since 2009. Currently, 39% say the administration is friendly to religion, 32% say it is neutral and 23% say it is unfriendly. The balance of opinion was comparable in August 2009, although somewhat fewer (17%) said the administration was unfriendly to religion.
However, there has been a noticeable shift in opinions among white Catholics, perhaps reflecting effects from the controversy over the administration’s policies on contraception coverage. The percentage of white Catholics who say the administration is unfriendly to religion has nearly doubled — from 17% to 31% — since 2009.
So less than a quarter, 23 percent, say Obama is unfriendly toward religion. The poll does suggest some movement among Catholics against the president, perhaps because of birth control. But here still, less than a third see Obama in these terms. And while far more see the Republican Party as friendly to religion than believe this about Obama, a majority, 51 percent, and 57 percent of independents, say religious conservatives have too much control over the GOP.
A case can be made that the polling is mixed on the contraception fight. But criticism of Obama over it is meant to advance a larger storyline, one that is echoed in many other attacks. The narrative is that on some fundamental level he harbors hostility towards the values of ordinary folks; he’s so committed to expanding government that he wants it to reach into private matters of faith; any day now he’ll unleash an ever-more-radical godless agenda on unsuspecting Americans.
What continues to be puzzling is how many leading officials and candidates continue to tell tales about this verson of Obama, even though it’s completely out of sync with mainstream voter perceptions of him. Of course, if you spend enough time inhabiting the alternate reality defined by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, where that Obama looms very large indeed, it’s easy to persuade yourself that this is how the American mainstream views him, too. But swing voters and independents just aren’t going to buy this storyline or care about it at all.