This article is second in a series of short articles related to the 2022 Midterm Elections. Each article targets a specific narrative being put forward in the media, and evaluates the arguments on their merit. I’ll give the likelihood of each scenario occurring, or an evaluation of the truth or falsehood behind each premise.
Narrative 2: Women will surge to the polls to support abortion rights.
Rating: Likely False
The media likes to point to voting outcomes this summer, like the referendum in Kansas, as indicators that the overturning of Roe v. Wade will galvanize female voters to support Democratic senate candidates in November.
I rate this argument as Likely False.
Yes, liberal women in support of abortion rights are heavily energized as a result of the SCOTUS ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson that struck down two landmark decisions that had previously provided the legal basis for abortion on demand. If you were worried that abortion activists were thinking about sitting out this election because of high inflation, well, worry no more. They will be voting and campaigning heavily this fall.
The problem with the “abortion surge” argument is that it’s simply not salient enough to matter on Election Day. A recent NBC poll showed that only 8% of respondents listed abortion as their top issue. Gallup shows half that figure. Despite some push polling published by a few organizations designed to inflate the issue, in every circumstance economic issues take “poll position”, often by margins greater than 4 to 1. Gallup rates the economy as the #1 concern for 38% of Americans. The next closest issue mentioned is a “lack of leadership” (22%). Neither of these issues look promising for the Democrats.
Most people vote on a wide range of issues. Abortion is an issue that, despite its polarizing nature, in truth only directly affects a segment of the population. The economy a highly salient issue that literally affects every American from high school graduates to seniors. Democrats have simply bet on the wrong horse this election.
But… doesn’t abortion impact all women?
It is unreasonable to expect the abortion issue to break completely in the Democrats’ favor. It is a liberal fallacy that abortion rights are for “all women”. In truth, only about 3 in 5 women support abortion on demand; the remaining 40% of women support restrictions, if not outright bans. The pro-life movement has long been a fund-raising source for Republican candidates, just as the pro-abortion movement has done for their Democratic competitors. Look at the history: abortion is a wedge issue with no clear advantage to either side.
The abortion issue also carries a significant “marriage gap”, with single women far more likely to support abortion than not. Married women split more evenly. Thanks to how the life cycle works, they’re also generally older than single women. In other words, the abortion divide generally falls along the same lines as the same party affiliations already established on other issues. Older women vote more Republican than younger women, regardless of the issue. Women over fifty also vote in larger proportions than women in their teens and twenties, so the advantage Democrats possess with the younger bloc is mitigated.
This summer has made one thing crystal clear, however. Voters of both genders (yes, I mean the number two) expect well thought-out abortion policy. As a whole, the nation is coalescing around policies that heavily regulate, while not outright banning abortion. Americans tend to be far less supportive of abortion procedures the later a pregnancy runs. Conversely, they also tend to be less tolerant of rigid laws, particularly without other support mechanisms in place, such as adoption programs and at-risk pregnancy care. Americans aren’t stupid, and the details of policy do matter. Both parties need to remember that simple fact.