Abortion politics aren’t working out for Dems — yet

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07: House Appropriations Committee's Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) talks with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito after he testified about the court's budget during a hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building March 07, 2019 in Washington, DC. Members of the subcommittee asked the justices about court security, televising oral arguments and codes of ethics for the court. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This week: The Briefing, Vol. X, Issue 27

  • Abortion politics still not panning out as Democrats hoped
  • The establishment loses big in Illinois
  • Democrats fail with their Colorado Senate intervention


Abortion politics: President Joe Biden finds himself in an unenviable situation. There’s nothing new about this, But the reversal of Roe v. Wade as added a new element of left-wing discontent to the many pitfalls he already faced.

So far, there is nothing in any public poll or survey or in any action by the Democratic or Republican party apparatuses, to suggest that the ruling in Dobbs will provide salvation or a silver lining for Democratic politicians in 2022. Just this week, there is still more evidence that liberals overestimated their support on this question, in the form of two public opinion surveys, one independent and one partisan.

First, the latest Harvard Harris poll has some interesting data regarding public attitudes toward abortion. Although it is very common to see polls that show a majority opposes overturning Roe, that doesn’t necessarily say much about what people think about the issue – most people never understood what Roe said in the first place. 

This poll asked more specific questions about how long into a pregnancy abortion should remain legal. Fully 49% of respondents believe that abortion should be banned after six weeks of pregnancy. And an incredible 72 percent believe that abortion should be banned after 15 weeks — the exact term set in place by Mississippi law that the Supreme Court just ruled on in Dobbs. A substantial minority of 37 percent believe that, at most, abortions should only be allowed in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. 

So opinion is actually far less pro-Roe and far more pro-Dobbs than most people think.

Second, the Republican State Leadership Committee, whose aim and responsibility is to elect Republicans to state legislative posts, finds itself on the front lines when it comes to this issue after Dobbs. State legislatures, after all, will have to hash out new restrictions. The committee released a memo with its own new polling last week that confirms what other polls have already shown: abortion is a low priority for voters.

Unsurprisingly, the top issues this year all have to do with the economy. Inflation is a top priority for 37 percent of voters, for example. The economy in general is the main issue for another 16 percent. In third place is crime at 9 percent, and only then does abortion pop up, at 4th place, with 8 percent, just ahead of climate change, guns, and immigration.

Another way of analyzing the abortion issue is to ask voters whether they are willing to vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on the issue. It turns out that most voters (49 percent) are willing to do so, whereas 37 percent are not, and one-third of the ones unwilling to do so call themselves Republicans. This means that, at worst, Republicans could be giving up a net 13 points based on this single issue (it’s probably substantially less than that). Even so, those who vote exclusively for pro-abortion candidates have been voting for Democrats all along anyway.

State legislatures: In the meantime, 2022 will see the parties angling for control of state legislatures, with pro-life campaigners hoping to create the first round of post-Dobbs abortion laws. They are in an excellent environment to succeed, given Joe Biden’s massive unpopularity and the Democratic Party’s internal problems. Republicans continue to hold a modest (2 point) lead in this poll’s generic ballot, but they hold a large and growing lead on the economy (15 points) and inflation (12 points). 

However, it must be reinforced that this could all change when actually abortion bans start being enacted. Some things are worth losing elections over, and it bears reminding that there’s no guarantee that the right thing will also be the most popular thing. There is also sure to be some splintering among state legislative Republicans in the future when it comes to just how restrictive they want their abortion laws to be.

Governor 2022

Illinois: It’s a lesson that cost only $50 million – don’t fight the voters over whom to nominate for governor. 

The Illinois governor’s race is not being closely watched, mostly because the Prairie State has essentially been a one-party state since 2004. But last week’s primary election results was somewhat shocking. Businessman Ken Griffin, the state’s wealthiest man, put $50 million behind Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin for governor. Instead, state Sen. Darren Bailey won convincingly. Irvin came in third with only about one-fourth as many votes as Bailey, in what one supporter called just before the election  “a total repudiation of the political establishment from the voters.” That phrase probably sounds familiar.

Although Bailey got a bit of an assist from Democrats, who wanted him to get the nomination, Illinois Republicans have every reason to doubt the wisdom of nominating moderates. Not only has that strategy rarely paid off for them, but it has proven disappointing even when it has succeeded electorally. 

It can be useful to put someone like moderate former Sen. Mark Kirk into a seat for six years, where he bars the way for some ambitious Democrat and votes with Republicans 70 or 80 percent of the time in Washington. But it’s quite another thing to elect someone like former Gov. Bruce Rauner, who was a massive disappointment as governor and in some ways worse than a Democrat. 

And of course, the only other Republican governor this century was George Ryan, who ultimately spent more time in prison than he did in Springfield. He surely set Republicans back a lot more than any conservative’s statewide candidacy ever will. 

Given the non-existent expectations for their state party, and the continued slide of the state’s economy and its population, there also seems little incentive for Republicans to run statewide unless they genuinely intend to turn the place upside-down. After all, why buy into the Democrats’ slow-motion destruction of your own state? At the very least, they should be looking to keep conservatives engaged by running candidates who are worth going out to vote for, even if victory is impossible – to build up and cultivate a conservative voting base that will grow and at best start winning only in the long run. 

When things get as bad they are in Illinois for your state and your party, it’s probably worth nominating the most conservative candidate possible.

Senate 2022

Colorado: Democrats tried their best and spent a considerable amount of money, but they failed to prevent Joe O’Dea from getting the Senate nomination to run against Sen. Michael Bennet

The burden is on Republicans, however, to make this into a real race. So far, this one is not quite on the radar. But it could get there, especially given Joe Biden’s massive unpopularity.

Colorado remains a blue state, but that doesn’t mean it’s unwinnable for a Republican in the right kind of year. Former Se. Cory Gardner proved that much.This is especially true given Bennet’s tenuous relationship with his party’s base.

Missouri: Two additional polls show that this race is stuck in a bad position for the GOP. 

Although a victory by former Gov. Eric Greitens is by no means assured, nobody is pulling ahead of him by a significant amount. He, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, and Attorney General Eric Schmitt have each polled at about 25% repeatedly. All three have conservative records, but Greitens is the only one with any chance of losing the seat, thanks to his conduct in office and resignation under duress.

Oklahoma: Former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon did manage to force Rep. Markwayne Mullin into a run-off in this special election. But given Mullin’s finish at 43 percent, It would be quite a miracle for Shannon to pull off a victory in the runoff. 

Washington: Sen. Patty Murray feels at least concerned enough that she has already spent a million dollars in negative advertising against her likely Republican opponent, Tiffany Smiley. This is of course prudent, but it is also not the act of a politician who believes her seat is safe. 

So far, the evidence is not very convincing that Murray is in trouble – an internal Republican poll that puts her only five points ahead of Smiley. 

Still, the fact that Democrats are spending money on this race, and that they feel the need to spend money on this race, is quite significant already.

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