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Before the midterm elections, pollsters and strategists and — yes, journalists — obsessed over major voter issues. In poll after poll, including polls at NPR, voters said inflation was the most important issue. Despite this, many people don’t vote with a single issue in mind, so it’s unclear how much abortion influenced the midterm elections.
This year’s midterm elections were certainly unusual – when the president’s approval is less than 50% (as President Biden’s is), their party lost an average of 43 House seats in the midterm elections. This year, Democratic losses could be in the single digits. As a result, less than six months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wadeboth parties are trying to determine the importance of the role played by mid-term abortion.
Polls may not predict what drives decision-making
First, the usefulness of polls in telling exactly how many people considered abortion in their vote is extremely limited. It’s true that polls have consistently shown Democrats caring more about the issue this year than Republicans, which makes sense following the reversal of the Dobbs ruling. deer. It is also true that there were voters who said the subject of abortion made them vote.
The effect was likely much more complicated, says Sarah Longwell, founder of the Republican Accountability Project, which opposes Republicans who deny the 2020 election results. voter discussion she led.
“You say, ‘OK, what issues do you have in mind?’ They say, ‘inflation, the economy, crime, the supply chain.’ That’s what they would say upstairs,” Longwell said.
But then the abortion would come back later: “When you get to the voting choice, like, ‘Who do you want to vote for, [Arizona Democratic Senate candidate] Mark Kelly or [Republican] Blake Masters? People would say, “Oh, I’m not voting for Blake Masters.” His position on abortion is insane. And that theme repeated itself with Adam Laxalt in Nevada, with Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, with Tudor Dixon in Michigan, where I think abortion played a huge role.”
One way to read this is that abortion was not necessarily a priority, but it was an important data point supporting a narrative that some Republicans were too extreme. That’s how Democratic strategist Tom Bonier sees it.
“My general theory on this is that Dobbs really focused and crystallized those other issues that didn’t really resonate,” he said. it wasn’t really making a dent in the numbers. And then Dobbs comes along. And I think that made this argument of Republican extremism more real to voters. He connected the dots.”
Voter registration gives some clues, but wait for data continues
Exit polls have been notoriously messy in recent years, so it will be months before we have reliable data (like the regular Pew Research survey validated electoral studies) on how people voted. However, voter registration data seems to show that the deer immediately overthrow motivated women.
“Almost everywhere what you saw was a pretty big increase in the gender gap within two to four weeks after Dobbs,” Bonier said. “And then we saw an increase, but not as pronounced after that.”
This, however, leaves a few questions unanswered. One is who women were motivated. Exit polls largely suggest that young women have broken for Democrats. But then an AARP post-election survey also showed that women over 65 turned to Democrats significantly between July and November.
Plus, there’s the question of how much the issue has motivated the men — or not. Many polls show that women and men do not differ much on their views on abortion. The data from this election could bring new nuances to that data, showing whether the issue motivates women to vote more than men, or whether it simply took longer to motivate men.
Abortion rights trump election measures
A second takeaway: pro-choice policies, taken in isolation, have worked well. Five statewide ballot measures all came out in favor of abortion rights, even in red states like Kentucky and Montana. That comes on top of an August victory for abortion-rights supporters in a Kansas vote.
And yet, in some of these places, pro-life candidates also prevailed. As Democratic strategist Rachel Bitecofer puts it: “There are millions of people who voted yes for a referendum to codify deer or whatever and then went to vote for pro-life conservative Republican candidates.”
Also, many politicians who were known to restrict abortion easily won – Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott, for example, and Republican Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis.
Why is that? Bitecofer believes this is ineffective communication from abortion rights supporters.
“You want to make sure people understand that this man is the guy who’s enacting the bill to steal your rights,” she said.
She added, however, that the problem so far has been breaking voters’ ties to party identity.
“People love heuristics. They love something that can tell them what to do without any mental investment. And that’s why the party tag is so incredibly powerful,” Bitecofer said.
Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of SBA Pro Life America, which opposes abortion rights. Conversely, she thinks that more expenses on ballot measures would have been key to helping abortion-rights supporters prevail. Additionally, she views the victories of people like Abbott and DeSantis as proof of their political power.
“The only thing you have in an election on the pro-life side that we’ve always had is the candidate — a human representation of the argument on the debate stage,” she said. “The reason governors earn well who have been ambitious for life is that they have articulated their position. They have the bully pulpit of governorships.”
Longwell of the Republican Accountability Project says for many voters it’s also simply about the importance of abortion.
“In Texas, people generally like the work that Abbott is doing, don’t they? They thought he did a good job on COVID, and culturally, they feel like they’re with him more than ‘They’re not,’ she said. “And so people will tolerate being out of step [with him] on something like abortion, especially if it’s not a priority issue for them.”
So what messaging works?
Another takeaway – harder to quantify – is which messaging strategy worked and how to move forward on the issue. For Dannenfelser, it is clear that the Republicans have failed and the Democrats have found a winning strategy.
“They ended up with a position that we need to label Republicans when it comes to abortion bans in general, and not go into specifics about what a Republican or a pro-life candidate stands for,” a- she declared.
Several Democratic strategists agree that it was smart to steer clear of gestational boundaries, though they often don’t see it as portraying Republicans as too extreme, as Republicans do.
“I think it was not only smart, but they were right that there’s no line, there’s no countdown in which you go from a human being fully autonomous to state ownership”, said Analilia Mejia, co-director of the Progressive Center for People’s Democracy.
Going forward, this leaves open the question of what the parties see as their best course. For Republican pollster Whit Ayres, his party must abandon the strictest abortion measures.
“We have a number of laws that have been passed by Republican legislatures that are far from the mainstream, that don’t include any exceptions, for example, for rape or incest,” he told a reporter. post-election committee at the Roper Center for Public Opinion. “It’s the very definition of outside the mainstream.”
The question is what do Republicans do with this information – what do they see as winnable dominance? Midterm, many Republican candidates avoided the topic of abortion. For Dannenfelser, it was a mistake.
“One thing you can’t do is expect to be a Republican primary candidate who says, ‘This is a state matter and I don’t expect to promote or sign a federal protection of 15 weeks or heartbeat,” she said.
Rebecca Katz, senior adviser to John Fetterman’s Senate campaign, also thinks her party needs to not just send a message, but take action — in this case, to pass abortion rights legislation.
“I don’t think people should just high five because we won a cycle with such devastating impact,” she said. “There is a lot of work to do.”