Joanna Liverance, 26, of Detroit protests with abortion-rights supporters outside of the Supreme Court, Wednesday, June 29, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade upended fifty years of precedent and undermined the will of the American public, which broadly supports a legal right to abortion.
How will this shocking and historic ruling impact the upcoming November midterm elections?
Given that the country’s views are generally in-line with the ‘pro-choice’ position, some Democrats are optimistic that the Supreme Court’s decision will help the party stem their losses in what most are anticipating will be a red-wave midterm election year.
While Democrats do have an advantage on the abortion issue in terms of both public opinion and base voter enthusiasm, this edge likely won’t be enough to seismically shift the national political landscape in the party’s favor before November.
That being said, with strong, clear, and concise messaging on the issue, Democrats do have an opportunity to move the needle in highly contested state-level races, especially since abortion legality will now be determined by states.
By putting abortion access on the ballot in key races for governor and other top offices — namely, in battlegrounds like Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Michigan — Democrats may be able to rally their base while also motivating certain groups of independent voters and swing voters, such as suburban women, to vote blue.
With regard to the impact on the national electorate, it is true that most Americans are on Democrats’ side of this fight, so to speak, as two-thirds of the country believes abortion should be legal, according to recent Monmouth University polling.
Further, while Republicans continue to maintain an edge in terms of voter enthusiasm, Democrats are making gains, per the findings of Economist/YouGov polling conducted before and after the ruling.
Prior to the decision, nearly one-half (47%) of Republicans said they were “more enthusiastic” about voting in 2022 than previous midterms, compared to just one-third (32%) of Democrats saying the same.
Following the decision, Republican enthusiasm was relatively unchanged (46%) while 40% of Democrats reported being “more enthusiastic” – a substantial eight-point increase, though not quite enough to eclipse the fervor on the right.
Despite this increase in enthusiasm from the left and the fact that public opinion works in Democrats’ favor, there are a few major reasons as to why the Supreme Court’s ruling won’t reverse Democrats’ bleak political prospects at the national level.
First and foremost, it is highly unlikely that abortion replaces inflation or the economy as the top midterm issue.
While abortion access is becoming a more salient issue as of late, Americans are still nearly three times more likely to cite economic issues (41%) — like inflation — as their top national voting concern this year over women’s issues (16%) — including abortion access — per a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll.
Moreover, nearly two-thirds of voters blame President Biden’s policies for inflation (64%) — including a majority of independent voters, as well as of Democrats — according to recent IBD/TIPP polling.
The second major reason that the decision to overturn Roe will have a muted impact on midterms is that Democrats’ own messaging on abortion has often times been varying. The party has struggled to come together around a cohesive stance — beyond their standard ‘choice’ articulation — about when and under what circumstances abortion should be legal.
This failure, along with the electorate’s general lack of knowledge on the subject, has made it possible for GOP-led states around the country to pass very restrictive abortion laws — i.e., banning abortions after six weeks, which is effectively a complete ban — without much national political blowback.
Though the public broadly supports abortion legality, Americans want some limits. Even among abortion rights supporters — 61% of the public — a majority (68%) say that, in some cases, abortion should be illegal, per data collected by Pew Research Center.
Thus, some of the messaging on the left from the progressive wing — about legalizing abortion access in all cases — is at times out of touch with the American public, and could be harmful to Democrats’ political prospects in swing-states.
To that end, there is also a real chance that Roe ends up backfiring on Democrats politically, as President Biden is now calling on Congress to end the filibuster to codify Roe into law.
This is one of the worst political and practical moves that Democrats could make. Talk of killing the filibuster shifts the national conversation away from Republicans being anti-choice and anti-women’s health to Democrats being anti-bipartisanship.
Moreover, doing so would contradict the administration’s claim that they are willing to work across the aisle, damage their credibility and negate Democrats’ ability to sell their bipartisan successes on infrastructure and gun control.
And practically speaking, though Democrats likely wouldn’t even have the votes to kill the filibuster — given Sen. Joe Manchin’s stated opposition to doing so — when Republicans take back control of Congress next year, the GOP would almost certainly reverse the law or pass an abortion ban.
To be sure, one cannot minimize the significance of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe — it reversed a constitutional right that American women enjoyed for half a century.
While the Supreme Court’s decision will have a wide-reaching impact on the lives of millions of American women, its electoral impact in 2022 won’t be fully realized as Democrats contend with mounting economic crises, their own messaging inconsistencies and the political realities of the country we live in.
Douglas Schoen is a longtime Democratic political consultant.