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Is abortion an election game-changer?

Democrats now count on abortion for political momentum

President Joe Biden speaks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in the Oval Office. Associated Press/Photo by Evan Vucci

Is abortion an election game-changer?
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For months, the prevailing political wisdom was that President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party was headed for a shellacking in the November midterm elections. Prognosticators across the ideological spectrum predicted gains for Republicans in key races all across the country. However, with the midterms just over two months away, there is increasing chatter that the re-emergence of abortion in the national conversation following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade has bolstered the political fortunes of Democrats. The Democrats are counting on it.

History tells us the party that controls the White House tends to fare poorly in the midterms. This is especially true of first-term presidents. For example, Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump saw their party lose 54, 63, and 41 House seats in their first midterm, respectively.

At the onset of summer, electoral trends appeared likely to hold, given President Biden’s historically low approval ratings, record inflation, and high prices for gas and other consumer goods. But a series of developments over the summer have renewed Democrats’ optimism about their midterm prospects.

Recent articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post suggest that fervor over Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and subsequent attempts by Republican legislators to enact new protections for unborn children could lead to Democrats holding the Senate and minimizing their losses in the House. This theory was buoyed earlier this month when Kansas unexpectedly voted against a measure that would have overridden the state Supreme Court and clarified that the state’s constitution does not include a right to abortion. Sensing a political opportunity, Democrats and their allies have spent $39.1 million on advertisements highlighting their support for abortion. By comparison, Republicans have spent $4.2 million on ads talking about abortion.

Although abortion supporters appear galvanized, the electorate is paying attention to issues beyond just abortion. In a Gallup poll published earlier this month, eight percent of respondents named abortion as their most important issue. Although eight percent represents the highest percentage since Gallup began tracking abortion in 1984, inflation (17 percent), concerns about dysfunctional government (17 percent), and the economy (12 percent) outpaced abortion as the most pressing issue for voters.

Thus, although the narrative that abortion might spare Democrats a disastrous midterm is gaining play in the media, the reality is that voters are weighing a variety of issues, and multiple factors are influencing the trajectory of the election.

Although abortion supporters appear galvanized, the electorate is paying attention to issues beyond just abortion.

The notion that abortion will save Democrats in November is questionable for two reasons. First, the political environment has improved for President Biden on several fronts. Although gas prices are still high, prices fell below $4 per gallon on Aug. 11 for the first time since March. Last week, the president achieved a significant legislative victory with the Inflation Reduction Act. Additionally, Republicans have nominated several candidates perceived by many as weak or problematic. Taken together, these developments are good news for Democrats facing unfavorable electoral trends.

Second, although reaction to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision has underscored the worldview divide between Republicans and Democrats on abortion, most Americans have known for a long time where each party stands on the issue. Even before Roe was reversed, Democrats were working to expand abortion access. In September 2021, House Democrats passed legislation that would eliminate almost every state-level restriction on abortion and codify Roe into law. In February 2020, Democrats denied cloture on the Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act, legislation that would provide protection for babies who survive botched abortions, as well as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, legislation that would prohibit late-term elective abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization, the age by which unborn babies can feel pain.

In short, congressional Democrats have opposed every commonsense protection for the unborn for years now. Because of recent votes, every lawmaker is on record regarding abortion, and the fact that Democrats want to expand abortion is well known. The Dobbs decision may have motivated pro-abortion members of the Democratic base, but the reality is that Americans have long known where both parties stand.

The fact that Democratic politicians believe abortion is a winning issue is morally significant. One’s worldview has consequences, and this is no less true in the political arena. In this election, Democrats are broadcasting their worldview commitments by reminding voters just how central abortion is to their vision of a just society. And while Democrats platforming abortion shouldn’t be surprising, it is still jarring to see how abortion—the intentional killing of an innocent child—animates the base of one of our nation’s major political parties.

Americans who care about protecting the unborn would do well to consider the stakes of the approaching midterms. Pro-life Christians must be prepared to vote accordingly.

David Closson

David Closson is the director of the Center for Biblical Worldview at the Family Research Council.


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