Los Angeles Times

Abortion ruling reshapes election outlook

Polls since overturnin­g of Roe show a midterm boost for Democrats in race to control Congress

- By David Lauter Monmouth University poll

One of the best-known patterns in politics is that the president’s party almost always loses seats in the midterm election. But how come?

A leading political science theory holds that voters reflect the general human wariness toward change and react against whatever new direction an administra­tion sets. In this view, voters act like a thermostat, resisting efforts by the party in power to shift the temperatur­e one way or the other.

But what if the party in the White House isn’t the one truly in power? What if it’s the opposition party that has caused the biggest change in policy for the country, using its control over the Supreme Court and many state legislatur­es?

And what if that change runs against the views of a large majority on an issue about which voters have deeply entrenched views?

What, then, happens with the thermostat­ic theory of voting behavior? Over the next several months, we may just find out.

We’re now three weeks out from the Supreme Court’s decision overturnin­g Roe vs. Wade, ending half a century in which abortion rights were guaranteed nationwide. That’s enough time to get a good sense of the public reaction to the decision and its political impact.

On the decision, polls show a consistent picture — Americans disagree with the court by a large margin, 60% to 37%, in a Monmouth University survey, which is similar to several other recent polls. That’s no surprise: Before the ruling, Americans said by about that same margin that they did not want the court to overturn Roe.

The decision has pushed abortion way up the list of top voter concerns. A clear read on that comes from surveys by Ipsos for the website FiveThirty­Eight. The firm surveyed just more than 3,000 Americans in May and June, then went back to 2,000 of them after the court’s decision.

In the surveys before the decision, 9% of Americans rated abortion as one of the most important issues for the country, putting the topic well down the list. After the decision, that rose to 19%, putting abortion in fourth place (behind inflation, crime or gun violence, and political extremism). Democrats were especially likely to rate abortion as a top issue, going from 13% saying so to 27%.

Along with the increased salience of abortion has come a shift in how some Americans say they plan to vote. At least half a dozen polls that ask Americans which party they would like to see controllin­g Congress have come out since the decision. They’ve shown a small but significan­t shift toward Democrats.

The FiveThirty­EightIpsos poll, for example, showed a 5-percentage­point Republican advantage in early May. That shifted to a 1-percentage-point Democratic advantage in their most recent survey. A poll released last week by Siena College for the New York Times similarly showed the two parties roughly tied on that congressio­nal ballot question.

On average, surveys before and after the Supreme Court decision have shown about a 3-percentage-point shift toward Democrats, FiveThirty­Eight found.

Ordinarily, a shift like that after a major news event would fade after a few weeks. But as Democratic strategist and pollster Anna Greenberg said before the court decision, concern over abortion may follow a different pattern.

That’s largely because Republican officials in red states, pushed by the fervor of their party’s antiaborti­on wing, can be counted on to act in ways that will keep the issue in the headlines, she said.

That’s been the case in Ohio, for example, where a 10-year-old, pregnant after being raped, had to travel to Indiana for an abortion this month. Ohio law bans abortions once fetal cardiac activity can be detected, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy. The law has no exceptions for rape or incest.

Republican leaders, including the state’s attorney general, tried to deny the case even existed until Tuesday, when a 27-year-old man was arrested in Columbus, Ohio, and charged with two counts of rape after he confessed. At the man’s arraignmen­t on Wednesday, the detective who investigat­ed the rape confirmed in court that the girl had received an abortion in Indianapol­is.

Elsewhere in states with Republican-controlled government­s, legislatur­es have been passing comprehens­ive abortion bans, with no exceptions for rape, incest or protecting a woman’s life. Some lawmakers have proposed measures to block people from traveling to other states to obtain abortions or from assisting someone seeking to end a pregnancy. Others are pushing for criminal prosecutio­ns of providers as well as women who have abortions.

It’s hard to overstate the unpopulari­ty of those positions. The FiveThirty­EightIpsos poll found that 78% of Americans opposed efforts to block travel across state lines, including 73% of Republican­s. In the Monmouth poll, 85% of Americans favored allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest and to protect a woman’s life. And only 7% favored a nationwide ban on abortions, which an increasing number of Republican candidates have advocated.

“Legislatur­es in conservati­ve states that are enacting draconian abortion bans appear to be imposing provisions that represent a fringe view even within their own states,” said Patrick Murray, who directs the Monmouth poll.

None of that, however, means Democrats are now the favorites to keep control of the House. Abortion is a powerful issue, but it’s far behind the No. 1 topic on the public’s mind — rising prices.

For a while, some Democrats sought to minimize the effects of higher costs for food, gasoline, rent and nearly everything else, but recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics drove home how real it is: Adjusted for inflation, average hourly earnings were 3.6% lower last month than the year before. That’s an especially heavy burden for low-income Americans.

That’s what lies behind President Biden’s low approval ratings, which have now dropped to 37% in the latest survey from the Pew Research Center — some of the lowest numbers for any recent president.

During President Obama’s and President Trump’s tenures, the relationsh­ip between economic performanc­e and a president’s job approval seemed to break down. Neither man’s ratings changed significan­tly with economic conditions. But as political scientists John Sides and Robert Griffin recently wrote, that’s one thing that has returned to normal with Biden: His job approval is precisely what one would expect with the worst inflation since the early 1980s.

Prices may calm down somewhat over the next few months — gasoline already has dropped four weeks in a row. But most economists expect inflation will remain high for at least the rest of this year.

The question for Democrats heading into this fall’s midterm elections is how many of them can outrun the undertow that creates. The abortion issue can help them — especially if Republican­s continue to push deeply unpopular policies. But the pattern of recent elections has more and more been that congressio­nal races are referendum­s on the president more than individual candidates.

Escaping that may be impossible in House races, where voters tend not to know the candidates well. In the Senate, it may be more feasible, and Republican­s may have helped by nominating weak candidates in key states. A poll released Thursday in Georgia, for example, found Sen. Raphael Warnock leading his Republican opponent, Herschel Walker, 50% to 47%, with Warnock running 16 percentage points ahead of Biden’s job approval in the state.

It’s been 30 years since James Carville, the strategist for Bill Clinton, boiled political analysis down to a sentence: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

This year, his party has to hope that’s changed.

‘Conservati­ve states that are enacting draconian abortion bans appear to be imposing provisions that represent a fringe view.’


 ?? Kent Nishimura Los Angeles Times ?? ABORTION RIGHTS activists protest outside the White House this month. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade has pushed abortion way up the list of leading voter concerns, recent surveys show.
Kent Nishimura Los Angeles Times ABORTION RIGHTS activists protest outside the White House this month. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade has pushed abortion way up the list of leading voter concerns, recent surveys show.

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