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How overturning Roe v. Wade impacts the midterms

Protesters are seen outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for the court to overturn Roe v. Wade later this year.
Greg Nash
Protesters are seen outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for the court to overturn Roe v. Wade later this year.

The news of the Supreme Court’s intent to overturn Roe v. Wade has made some Democrats optimistic that the political landscape could demonstrably shift in their favor ahead of what most expect will be a red-wave midterm election. 

Indeed, Democrats do have a clear advantage on the abortion issue in terms of base voter enthusiasm, according to new polling among likely midterm election voters conducted by our firm, Schoen-Cooperman Research.

But while the Supreme Court’s decision might present an opportunity for Democrats to stem their losses in November by galvanizing their base, it likely will not produce the seismic shift that many are hoping for — given the national political challenges Democrats face due to widespread economic discontent, and to a lesser extent, due to the party’s inconsistent messaging on the abortion issue.

Our survey found that 60 percent of Democrats say they are very concerned about abortion policy in the U.S., compared to 40 percent of Republicans, and about three-quarters (76 percent) of Democrats say that a candidate’s position on abortion is either the most important or a very important issue to their vote, versus 57 percent of Republicans. Democrats are also more likely to say that they would not vote for a candidate who does not share their views on abortion (56 percent) compared to Republicans (44 percent).

To be sure, the energy surrounding the abortion issue is largely on the left, and while Republicans continue to maintain an advantage over Democrats in terms of voter enthusiasm, Democrats are gaining ground.  

The share of Democratic voters who said they were “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic to vote in the midterms increased from 48 percent to 54 percent after the leaked opinion revealed the court had voted to overturn Roe, while Republican excitement increased from 59 percent to 61 percent, per a recent Morning Consult poll.

Democrats’ increased interest in voting was driven by women: 51 percent of female Democrats said they are at least very enthusiastic to vote this November, up 11 points in just one week, reaching its peak since weekly tracking began in September. 

Though Democrats have an opportunity to rally their base and increase turnout in light of the Supreme Court’s expected decision, their midterms outlook is an uphill battle, given their political vulnerabilities vis-à-vis the economy and inflation.

Indeed, high inflation — which is a very politically powerful factor — is causing frustration with President Biden and the Democratic Party among Republicans, as well as Independents, and continues to be a top-of-mind issue for voters.

Our survey found that 38 percent of voters site inflation and rising prices as the most important issue that needs to be addressed, followed by oil and gas prices (29 percent). Abortion rights are cited as most important to 18 percent t of voters — behind the economy and creating jobs (24 percent) and border security (24 percent) — which is on par with affordable health care (18 percent). 

Likewise, the aforementioned Morning Consult survey found that 79 percent of voters say the economy is “very important” to their vote in the midterm elections, while 52 percent of voters say the same about abortion. At this point, it seems highly unlikely that abortion will supplant rising prices as the top midterm issue, seeing as prices are not likely to fully stabilize before November.

Positively for Democrats, our poll did find that the party has a national edge on the abortion issue in the sense that a majority of the country identifies as ‘pro-choice’ (54 percent) — including majorities of Independents (53 percent) and voters in the eight key swing-states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (52 percent). 

In contrast, just 36 percent of voters identify as “pro-life,” — including even fewer Independents (33 percent) and about the same share of swing-state voters (38 percent).

Further, by an 8-point margin (43 percent to 35 percent), likely voters feel that Republicans’ position on abortion is more extreme than Democrats’ position. This trend is especially pronounced among Independent voters, who find Republicans’ positions more extreme by a 19-point margin (46 percent to 27 percent). 

However, we do find that Americans’ support for abortion is complicated, not absolute, and not entirely in line with the messaging on the Democratic side, which has often been inconsistent, extreme, or lacking. 

When asked at what point during pregnancy, if at all, abortion should be legal if the woman chooses not to have the child for any reason, the vast majority of voters (71 percent) — including majorities of Independent voters (72 percent) and swing-state voters (71 percent) — believe abortion access should be more restrictive than what is allowed under Roe v. Wade, which congressional Democrats recently tried to codify into law. 

More specifically, under these circumstances, 42 percent of voters support a legal right to an abortion that is more restrictive than Roe v. Wade — including 46 percent of Independents and 31 percent of swing-state voters — and 29 percent believe abortion should be illegal at all times — including 26 percent of Independents and 40 percent of swing-state voters.

These findings indicate that much of the current messaging from the left is out of step with national sentiment, and out of touch with key ‘middle’ segments of the electorate.

Put another way, while Democrats are viewed as less extreme than Republicans on the abortion issue, they clearly do not have the robust coalition that they would need to tip the scales in the midterms. 

Ultimately, while Democrats have some clear advantages over Republicans in terms of the impact of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, it is clear that the party still faces an uphill battle ahead of the midterms. 

Douglas E. Schoen and Carly Cooperman are pollsters and partners with the public opinion company Schoen Cooperman Research based in New York. They are coauthors of “America: Unite or Die.”

Tags 2022 midterm elections abortion; Supreme Court; pro-life; pro-choice; Roe v. Wade Joe Biden Politics of the United States Roe v. Wade Supreme Court draft opinion

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