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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Choice Edge

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner has an interesting — and important — study just out entitled “How Choice Helps Obama Win the White House.” Here’s the nitty-gritty from the executive summary:

With a struggling economy and on-going war in Iraq, choice is unlikely to be the defining issue of this year’s election. However, this latest research by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner commissioned by NARAL Pro-Choice America in 12 battleground states suggests that choice could in fact play a role in building a winning coalition for Barack Obama. Issues of choice not only have the ability to motivate Obama’s base, but among key swing groups – chiefly pro-choice Republican and Independent women – it creates sharps contrasts between Obama and Republican candidate, John McCain. These contrasts may tip the scale in what is sure to be a close race in November.

And a couple of the bullet points:

Once balanced information about Obama and McCain’s respective positions on choice is introduced, Obama gains 6 points overall, with his lead in battleground states expanding from a net 2 points (47-45 percent) to a net 13 points (53-40 percent).
The issue of choice moves the swing vote and generates crossover support. Obama gains 13 points among pro-choice Independent women (who make up 9 percent of this electorate) and 9 points among pro-choice Republican women (who account for 5 percent of this electorate). When these groups are combined, this movement equates to a gain of 1.6 points overall in the general election race against McCain.

The GQR study, commssioned by NARAL/Pro-Choice America and conducted 5/29 – 6/8, indicates a potentially decisive edge on the issue for Obama. There’s more, and the pdf and charts also merit a perusal by Dem campaign strategists at all levels of representative government. In presidential election years, there is usually some nervousness about abortion positions and the Catholic vote among Dems. But this survey should give Dem candidates more confidence in defending their pro-choice policies.
I’ve often wondered if the Democratic framing of the abortion debate could be recast more advantageously. (George Lakoff ruminates on the topic in broad context here) I liked the way Michael Dukakis laid it out in his ’88 run, saying in essence that women who have abortions should not have to go to jail, which is where criminalizing abortion leads. I’ve found that this angle works well in arguments with religious and pacifist friends who were a little wobbly on the issue of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. It is possible, after all, to be morally-opposed to abortion as a personal choice and equally opposed to penalizing women who have abortions at the same time. Asking “If your daughter/sister/friend had an abortion, do you think she should be subjected to criminal penalties?” brings it home nicely. And, in one of the presidential debates, I would like to hear Senator Obama ask Senator McCain “Do you think women who have abortions should go to jail?” It could help clarify the issue for many who haven’t thought it through.
Related abortion rights issues like parental notification, partial-birth abortion and government funding for abortions elicit more complicated responses in opinion polls. But on the core issue of protecting women who have abortions from legal harassment, the GQR study indicates Obama — and likely other pro-choice Dems — have a potent edge, and they should use it.

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