With the midterm elections roughly six months away, Democrats insist that the likely demise of the Roe v. Wade precedent will be a dominant issue this cycle. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters this week that he and his partisan allies will stress reproductive rights “relentlessly“ while making their pitch to voters.
To which Republicans are effectively responding, “Nah.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told NPR yesterday that he doesn’t expect the issue to matter much at all as voters head to the polls in the fall, at least as far as congressional campaigns are concerned. “My guess is in terms of the impact on federal races, I think it’s probably going to be a wash,” the Kentucky Republican said.
A day earlier, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said something similar, telling The Wall Street Journal, “I just don’t think this is going to be the big political issue everybody thinks it is, because it’s not going to be that big a change.” (In reality, it would be an enormous change.)
Also this week, Sen. Ted Cruz pushed a related line. “Angry leftists, many of whom are pretty ignorant and don’t even know what overturning Roe means, I think a month afterwards are gonna be surprised — ‘Wait, nothing about my life changed,’” the Texas Republican said.
It’s possible that some of these prominent GOP voices genuinely believe that the demise of Roe will be largely irrelevant. It’s also possible that this rhetoric represents a profound example of wishful thinking.
Either way, telling voters reproductive rights won’t matter in the elections is one thing; voters’ actual attitudes are another. Consider the latest national poll from Monmouth University.
When asked to choose the single most important issue from the six policy areas included in the poll, economic policy (26%) and abortion (25%) are the top concerns, followed by health care (16%) and immigration (14%). Fewer than 1 in 10 select either gun control (9%) or tax policy (8%) as their most important issue. Four years ago, health care was the top issue (28%), followed by economic policy (19%) and immigration (18%). Abortion policy (9%) was near the bottom of the list.
For decades, most Americans have said they wanted the Roe v. Wade precedent to remain intact, but when assessing public attitudes, that only told us part of the picture: People often have general opinions about issues, but if they’re not top priorities, those opinions don’t dictate elections.
But as Republican-appointed justices to the Supreme Court prepare to cast aside a constitutional right that’s existed for the last half-century, and abortion bans prepare to take effect in much of the country, abortion has gone from a culture war conflict perpetually simmering on the backburner to a dominant political issue that’s likely to decide some important elections.
That said, there are caveats to keep in mind. Reproductive rights may have quickly made the transition from electoral afterthought to political dominance, but data like this tells us part of a story: Abortion is now the most important issue for a big chunk of the electorate, but not all of those voters are going to agree on the issue.
Regardless, those who insist that abortion rights will be irrelevant on Election Day are in for a surprise.