Will abortion become the central Issue during 2022 midterms?


Sean Patrick Maloney, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, declared last night, “only Democrats will protect our freedoms. That is now the central choice in the 2022 election.” I can’t help but wonder how many gas stations with a price around $4.36 per gallon Maloney passed as he was typing that tweet.

A Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade is indeed likely to fire up the Democratic grassroots, at least to some degree. When all the votes of the 2022 midterm election are counted and tabulated, Democrats who support legal abortion may well be able to point to a governor’s race or two, some U.S. House races, and maybe even a vulnerable Senate incumbent or two who was saved because of Democrats voting on the abortion issue.

The problem for the Democrats is that the demographics who are most passionately supportive of legal abortion are by and large already supporting their candidates. Based on historical polling, including the Pew Research poll, women with college degrees and self-identified Democrats are the most supportive of legal abortion. About 80 percent of Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, women are slightly more supportive of legal abortion than men, and college graduates are more supportive of legal abortion than those who have not completed or attended college.

In the most recent NPR Marist poll, 26 percent of white women with college degrees strongly approved of the job President Biden was doing. That figure was 15 percent among white women without college degrees, 14 percent among men with college degrees, and 11 percent among men without college degrees. In the same poll, 57 percent of white women with college degrees said they intended to vote for the Democratic candidate in this year’s election for Congress. By contrast, only 46 percent of white men with college degrees said they intended to vote for the Democrat, as did 37 percent of white women without college degrees, and 28 percent of white men without college degrees.

In other words, the people likely to be most outraged by the overturning of Roe v. Wade were already planning to vote for Democrats in 2022. What’s more, pro-choice voters are more likely to live in blue states that already have pro-choice Democratic governors, senators, House members and state legislators. And pro-choice voters probably aren’t numerous enough to make a difference in heavily-Republican, pro-life red states. Once again, purple swing states will be the main battlefield of the culture war.

Oh, and in the last four monthly Gallup polls asking Americans, “What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?”, abortion has not registered at even one percent. The Supreme Court decision will likely change that, at least for a while, but is it going to overtake inflation (17 percent), the economy in general (11 percent) or fuel/oil prices (4 percent)?

Note that back in February, the new Texas abortion law was a non-factor in the advertising leading up to this year’s primary: “Airwaves are not swamped with campaign ads focused on abortion access. Candidates spend more time talking about COVID-19, immigration and the reliability of the power grid. Some rallies and events come and go without even a mention of Texas having the most restrictive abortion law in the country on the books for months now.”

Maybe if inflation was under control, Americans weren’t groaning and gasping every time they looked at their grocery bill or filled up their tank, the supply chain issues were resolved, crime was low, the border was secure, American parents had faith in the performance of their local schools, Ukraine and Russia weren’t at war, and we otherwise enjoyed an era of peace and prosperity, then yes, abortion would probably dominate our public debate in a midterm election year. But it is likely to remain one controversial issue among many.

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