How Abortion will Define the '24 Campaign
One year ago, the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision changed American politics
One year ago this weekend, an unelected, rigged Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade and take away a constitutional right. Thanks to the Trump-era shift in the balance of the court and a leaked draft opinion, the decision was long expected. Yet, it still sent shockwaves through American politics — fundamentally changing the trajectory of the midterm elections. However, a year later it seems clear that the political impact of the Dobbs decision will last far beyond one election. Years from now, we may look back on this Supreme Court decision as one of the historical pivot points in American politics.
In 2022, Democrats made access to abortion services and reproductive health care a centerpiece of the campaign. This strategy was wildly successful because the issue was top of mind for voters. Republican legislatures across the country were falling over themselves to pass extreme and unpopular laws, including outright bans with no exceptions and restrictions on access to abortion medication and the ability to travel out of state to access abortion. Across the country, Republicans spoke about prosecuting doctors and imprisoning women. Now, the Republicans intend to change the subject and push their extreme positions on abortion into the background.
The polling since the reckless Dobbs decision shows just how impactful it has been and will likely be in 2024.
1. Abortion Won Democrats the Midterms
Elections are dynamic enterprises that involve a million variables — the economy, the mood of the country, spending, candidate quality, etc. It is impossible — and foolhardy — to suggest that one singular factor was the reason for victory or defeat. But the evidence is clear. The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs fundamentally changed the trajectory of the midterms.
Prior to the decision, the polling showed Democrats headed for a shellacking typical of a president’s first midterm. Anecdotally, everyone in the party was concerned about diminished enthusiasm among the base. Grassroots donations were lagging and volunteers were hard to recruit. People were exhausted by the non-stop crises of the Trump years and beaten down by the failure to pass Build Back Better and Voting Rights legislation.
Then Dobbs happened.
Previously complacent or disillusioned Democrats became highly engaged. Campaigns and political organizations were flooded with volunteers; and per the Associated Press, Democratic campaigns and causes raised $80 million in the first week after the decision.
The impact of the decision persisted throughout the campaign. Catalist, the Democratic data firm publishing some of the best voter information in the business, wrote this in their report on the 2022 election:
After Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court overturned abortion rights, a disproportionate number of women voters registered to vote in states with highly contested elections. At the same time, polls showed Democratic women and men indicating they were more engaged in the election. While relative turnout by gender remained largely stable, Democratic performance improved over 2020 among women in highly contested races, going from 55% to 57% support. The biggest improvement was among white non-college women (+4% support).
The Supreme Court taking away a constitutional right is not the only reason Democrats won in 2022, but it is almost certainly the biggest reason.
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