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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Path for Dems to Leverage Abortion Opinion for the Midterms

Harold Meyerson explains “How Democrats Can Now Defeat Anti-Choice Republicans” at The American Prospect:

Yesterday, The New York Times posted both a map and a table showing the polling on how each of the 50 states comes down on the question of abortion. That table offers a guide to how Democrats can actualize various states’ sentiments to elect more pro-choice Democrats in November.

Consider Florida, where 56 percent of residents want to keep abortion, in the Times’ phrase, “mostly legal,” while just 38 percent want it to be “mostly illegal.” Republican Gov. (and presidential wannabe) Ron DeSantis recently signed a law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and anti-choice zealots in the legislature will likely now want a new law making it illegal after six weeks or just plain altogether. If he wants the party’s presidential nod in 2024, DeSantis should probably go along with them; if he wants to be re-elected this November, he should try to duck the issue altogether. The Democrats running against him should do all they can to highlight his anti-choice stance, and if there’s still time to put an initiative on the ballot, they should force the question by letting voters decide abortion’s post-Roe legality—a question DeSantis won’t be able to duck without the kind of contortions that would in themselves weaken his prospects.

In the swing states of Wisconsin, Arizona, and Pennsylvania—in all three of which both senatorial and gubernatorial seats are up for grabs—the supporters of abortion outnumber its opponents by 13 percentage points. In Michigan, where Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will face a right-wing Republican challenger, abortion supporters outnumber opponents by 16 percentage points. In largely libertarian Nevada, where the incumbent Democratic senator and governor both face what have been thought to be strong Republican challenges, abortion backers outnumber its opponents by a whopping 32 percentage point margin.

If the pro-choice Democrats can’t figure out a way to win those elections, shame on them.

The pro-choice sentiment of the majority of Americans can play a role in numerous House contests as well. In California, where pro-choicers outnumber anti-choicers by 20 percentage points, the legislature is now planning to place a referendum on the November ballot that would enshrine the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution. The debate around that referendum puts the three anti-choice Republican House members from the outskirts of the L.A. metropolitan area in even more serious peril of being unseated than they already are, and it could do the same to some of the Republicans now representing inland California as well. (By the way, the law that legalized abortions in California, without putting that right into the state’s constitution, was signed in 1967 by the state’s Republican governor—Ronald Reagan—before his party succumbed to fundamentalist Christianity.)

Speaking of which, the Times map of the individual states’ views on abortion illustrates that the opposition is centered not in heavily Catholic states, such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New Mexico, all of which strongly support abortion rights, but in the fundamentalist Protestant evangelical belt that runs from West Virginia to Mississippi and Arkansas. Historically, evangelicals had no particular position on abortion until the 1970s, when they began to see it as a feminist cause célèbre. Which is one reason why the Republican opposition to abortion can be quantified as less of a “pro-life” concern and much more as a rage against uppity women.

At The Cook Political Report, however, Amy Walter warns that the way the abortion issue’s ‘salience’ interacts with Democratic voter ‘enthusiasm’ 6 months from now is in question:

Can abortion dislodge the economy as a top issue this fall?

That, of course, is the million-dollar question.

Historically, according to 20 years of Gallup polling, about 25 percent of Americans see the issue of abortion as critical to their vote choice, another 25 percent think it’s “not a major issue,” while the other 50 percent see it as “one of many important factors” determining their vote choice.

One place to look for the impact of big changes to abortion law would be a state like Texas, which put into place legislation that bans abortion after 6 weeks. But, a Texas Lyceum survey from March found that just 5 percent of Texans believe that abortion is “the most important issue facing the state of Texas” compared to 20 percent who see border/immigration as a top issue and 26 percent who identified inflation, the economy and/or rising gas and energy costs as their top concern.

Of course, Texas is a much redder state than Georgia or Arizona or Wisconsin (where key Senate and gubernatorial contests are taking place). And, the impact of this laws takes on new significance if Roe is indeed overturned.

But, what about a blue state, like Virginia. In the 2021 gubernatorial contest, Democrat Terry McAuliffe spent more than $2 million on ads like this one accusing his GOP opponent, Glenn Youngkin of wanting to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood. Even so, that was less than half the amount that the McAuliffe campaign on ads trying to link Youngkin with Donald Trump. This suggests that the abortion issue, even in a state as blue as this one, wasn’t moving the needle for the voters the McAuliffe campaign was targeting. Exit polls in that race found that Youngkin did better among the 54 percent of Virginia voters who fall in the middle of the spectrum on the issue of abortion.  Youngkin took 37 percent of the vote among those who want abortion to be “legal in most cases,” while McAuliffe took just 12 percent of the vote among those who want abortion to be “illegal in most cases.”

Bottom Line: We are in the very early stages of what could be the first major change to abortion laws in 50 years. As such, we need to watch the above benchmarks like salience and enthusiasm about the issue very closely. And, given that these battles will take place at the state level, we’ll also need to get more state by state data to make any projections on the impact it could have on individual statewide races.

Democrats have to seize the opportunity to motivate pro-choice voters and urge them to help turn out eligible voters in their families and friendship circles. But President Biden and Democratic leaders must also take every possible opportunity to take action against inflation and also to blame price gouging companies and the Republicans they fund for rising prices at the gas pump and supermarket.

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