GOP-Led Abortion Bans Risk Driving Away Voters the Party Needs
(Bloomberg) -- A Texas law that effectively bans most abortions will complicate Republican efforts to stem their losses among college-educated suburban voters as the polarizing issue moves to the forefront of upcoming elections.
The law, and a possible reactive wave of abortion bans in other conservative states, risks driving away Americans who have stuck with Republicans because of economic issues just as the GOP begins its campaign to retake control of the House and Senate in the 2022 midterms.
“Republicans are already hemorrhaging college-educated suburban voters,” said Sarah Longwell, publisher of the Bulwark, an anti-Donald Trump conservative news and opinion site. “This is an issue that further alienates that exact group of people.”
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court declined to block a Texas law that bans abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy and empowers private citizens to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion after that time. The move is seen as the first salvo in what is likely to be a series of pitched battles on the issue between now and the 2022 elections.
The president of the Florida Senate, Wilton Simpson, said he found the high court’s decision late Wednesday “encouraging.”
“The Texas law represents a new approach,” Simpson wrote in an email to Bloomberg Government. “I think it’s worthwhile to take a look at the Texas law and see if there is more we can do here in Florida.”
The high court will hear arguments this fall on a Mississippi law that is seen as the most direct challenge to the landmark 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, which held that women have a constitutional right to abortion.
The Texas law has already become an issue in Virginia before this November’s gubernatorial election. Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, who is trailing in polls, needs to cut into the Democratic advantage in the suburbs to win.
Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, a former governor of the state who has already run TV ads on abortion rights, quickly highlighted his veto of bills cutting funding to Planned Parenthood and called for enshrining those rights in the state Constitution.
“I’ll be a brick wall again,” he said at a news conference, referencing a rallying cry he used while in office.
Youngkin, who has been recorded by abortion rights activists saying he couldn’t discuss the issue without losing independent voters, tried to avoid the subject. Pressed by a reporter Wednesday on whether he’d support a similar law, the former Carlyle Group co-chief executive officer shifted the subject to McAuliffe’s support for third-trimester abortions when medically necessary, arguing that was too extreme for Virginia.
His campaign did not elaborate.
After narrowly favoring Trump in 2016, suburban voters swung toward Democrats, supporting them by 7 points in the 2018 midterm elections and backing Joe Biden by 11 points in the 2020 presidential election, according to Pew Research Center surveys of validated voters.
Biden also dominated among suburban women in 2020, winning 59% to Trump’s 40%, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 110,000 voters.
Public opinion on abortion has been fairly stable for years. In an NBC News poll of 1,000 adults taken Aug. 14-17, 54% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 42% said it should be illegal in all or most cases.
Yet the poll also showed the issue divided starkly along the demographic groups that increasingly define the two parties.
Majorities of women, college-educated White voters, and those living in the suburbs — groups that now largely support Democratic candidates — said abortion should be legal. More Republican-leaning groups including White voters without a college degree, evangelical Christians and those living in rural areas said abortion should be banned.
Still, recent attempts to use the issue to galvanize voters who favor abortion rights have come up short, and Republicans expect a baked-in advantage in the coming midterms because of historic turnout patterns.
Last year, activists targeted Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican who supports abortion rights, over her vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whom they feared would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. But while her Democratic challenger broke the state’s record for fundraising, Collins won by more than 8 percentage points.
Even the last-minute replacement of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by the conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not help Democrats, who barely eked out a Senate majority in the 2020 election.
But Kyle Kondik, who tracks elections for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the far-right positioning of abortion laws being passed could further polarize voters on the issue.
The “in-your-face nature” of the Texas law could turn out some voters who haven’t been motivated by the issue before, he said.
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