WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's long-sluggish poll numbers have inched up, the unemployment rate has dropped five months in a row, the stock market shows signs of life and the Republican presidential contenders are slicing each other up in a primary battle that shows no sign of ending soon.
Yet just as some analysts have begun to suggest a sunnier political outlook for the president's re-election prospects, the White House is engaged in a highly charged dispute with Republicans and Catholic leaders over its mandate that religious institutions must provide contraceptives in their health care coverage. Opponents say it's government overreach that tramples religious freedom for those opposed to contraception as a matter of religious principle.
However, pollsters and strategists say the controversy — and the push for contraceptive coverage for all women — is a political plus with at least one key target audience: young, female voters, a large portion of the electorate.
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, this is a good fight," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, whose surveys have found that voters across the board — including Catholic voters — support access to contraceptives. "It's a total win for the administration."