Some Democrats are convinced that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which, as a practical matter that an important social issue will now be decided by the political process rather than judicial fiat, is going to save them in the midterm elections.
Their big theory is that there are undecided voters out there who care enough and pay enough attention to vote in mid-term elections who are not completely frazzled by the disaster of the last 17 months. These voters, who have somehow stayed undecided until now, will suddenly be animated by this Supreme Court ruling that simply allows the national political conversation, which was interrupted in 1973, to proceed.
It seems unlikely.
Certainly, survey results to date do not suggest that. As recently as a few days ago, when asked about the most important issue facing the United States, fewer than 2% of respondents to a Reuters Ipsos survey said abortion; 34% said the economy. Gallup has been asking the same question monthly since the beginning of the year. In May, about 5% of respondents identified abortion as the most pressing issue.
Moreover, it is not at all clear that all of that sentiment is uniformly arranged behind the idea that abortion for any reason and at any time during a pregnancy should be legal. As recently as May 2021, a Gallup nationwide survey indicated that 47% of voters considered themselves pro-life, while 49% considered themselves pro-choice.
In that same survey, 55% thought abortion should be outlawed in the second trimester, and 71% thought it should be illegal in the third trimester. So, there is some granularity in voters’ thoughts about abortion
That might be a problem for the Democrats. Sen. Rick Scott has already asked Democrats at what point life begins; he will not be the last person to ask that question.
Most Democrats will eventually and ultimately argue that life begins at birth. That is a sentiment out of step with approximately the entire world and most American voters. If that is the answer, which seems likely, it will expose Democrats as the extremists in the conversation.
There will also be questions from the left as to why Democrats have never codified the ruling in Roe v. Wade. It is tough to remember now, but as recently as a generation ago, prominent Democrats routinely voted for pro-life legislation, including provisions that precluded federal funding from being used for abortions. President Joe Biden himself voted to overturn Roe in 1982.
That legacy, too, will complicate Democrats’ ability to navigate the terrain.
In a similar vein, some House Democrats in contested seats this cycle spent a chunk of the Spring trying to convince their leadership not to make abortion a centerpiece of the 2022 campaign. These candidates were and are loathe to demonize any voters, given that voters prepared to maintain the status quo will be at a premium.
Stir in the now routine firebombing and vandalism of churches and pregnancy centers, as well as the unfortunately routine threats against judges. All of that will serve to energize both law-abiding citizens and pro-life voters.
For their part, Republicans need to avoid spiking the ball before they cross the goal line. We are still months away from Election Day in many places, and lots of things — good and bad — can happen. They also need to think carefully about what a pro-life agenda looks like. Does it include help for expectant mothers? Does it include family leave? Does it involve — like the decades-long government campaign against smoking — using the power of the government to stigmatize and marginalize abortion as an option?
The reality is that both sides face a slightly refocused campaign and a different policy environment awaiting on the other side of the November elections. Whoever can navigate those environments most gracefully, will have an advantage in the near and distant future.
Michael McKenna is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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