Democrats focus on abortion in midterm message


BRandy Ahmed’s conversations began by focusing on public education and community investment. But as she strode over Halloween decorations and brightly colored foliage to knock on the doors of her former neighborhood in Macomb County, Michigan in early October, another topic consistently warmed voters to her approach: the right to abortion.

This culturally conservative part of the Detroit metro area would not previously be a place where political campaigns discussed the details of abortion policy. But now Democrats like Ahmed’s mother, Veronica Klinefelt, who is running in one of the most contested legislative races in the state, are hoping the abortion debate can help them win back suburban voters. who otherwise would not be able to vote in a midterm election.

As Ahmed spoke to voters, a woman told him she was concerned about the lack of exceptions for rape, incest and medical conditions in many abortion bans across the country. “There are a lot of gray areas,” the woman said. Ahmed reassured another worried voter that Klinefelt would advocate for reproductive rights if elected to the state Senate.

“In Macomb County, a lot of people will say, ‘Personally, I’m pro-life, but I think it’s a woman’s choice,'” Klinefelt said. The end of Roe vs. Wade was “a revelation”.

Klinefelt and other Democratic candidates hope the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a constitutional right to abortion and leave abortion policy to the states will inspire voters to support them this fall. But as Democrats point to the stakes elections across the country now pose for abortion access, Republicans believe they have an advantage in recent weeks as polls show the economy is a priority for voters. Polls in recent days have shown that more Americans trust Republicans to do a better job on the economy and gas prices than Democrats, and that the share of voters who said economic concerns are the biggest problem facing the country rose to 44% in October from 36% in July. With President Joe Biden and some Democrats putting more emphasis on inflation, many say the party is struggling to find a unified message to sell its economic policies to voters. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont warned Democrats of focusing too much on abortion in an op-ed in the Guardian earlier this month: “While the issue of abortion must remain front and center, it would be a political mistake for Democrats to ignore the state of the economy,” he said. -he writes.

Despite worrying economic polls for Democrats, other surveys have shown the party leading in high-profile races where abortion is a major issue. Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer led her opponent Tudor Dixon 52% to 46% among likely voters in a CNN poll released Monday, for example, while Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro led Republican Doug Mastriano from 56% to 41%. Another CNN poll found Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman leading Dr. Mehmet Oz 51% to 45% ahead of Tuesday’s debate. And while the debate featured Fetterman’s communication challenges as he recovered from a stroke, Oz was criticized for saying abortion decisions should be made between “women, doctors, local political leaders. Fetterman’s campaign announced that it raised more than $1 million in just three hours after the confrontation.

Read more: Michigan is fighting one of the biggest abortion battles in the nation

Even as voters worry about the economy, Bryan Bennett, a pollster with the progressive data firm Navigator Research, says abortion has remained a major issue for voters since the Supreme Court’s June ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The group’s most recent survey asked voters which issues facing the country they were most afraid of, and 46% said they were “very afraid” of a recession in the US economy, 44 % – the second largest group – saying they were ‘very afraid’ of ‘losing your rights’. For Democratic women, the priorities reversed, with 48% saying losing their rights was the main fear 34% saying they were “very afraid” of a recession.

Navigator Research also asked voters an open-ended question about what issues they thought politicians were most focused on, and found that the biggest word for Democratic and independent voters when asked about Republican candidates was abortion. For the Democratic candidates, abortion emerged as the biggest word for voters of all parties. Abortion also remained the most prominent word in a word cloud Navigator researchers have conducted in every survey since June after polling voters about the negative news they hear. “Regardless of what they hear in communications from specific candidates, there is pretty strong evidence to suggest that abortion is going to be a very big issue at the ballot box,” Bennett said.

Ryan Irvin, co-founder of Change Media Group, which ran ads for Democratic candidates this year, says his team tested ads about the economy, health care and prescription drugs, and always found that abortion-related messages resonate strongly with voters. “Choice questions came out on top as the most compelling,” he says.

Progressive positions on abortion may also resonate with a surprising demographic: Latino voters. Republicans have courted Latinos following former President Donald Trump’s gains in the group in 2020, and since many Latinos are Catholic, they haven’t traditionally been seen as natural candidates for posts. on the right to abortion. But a new poll may show otherwise: 71% of Latino voters said they support federal law to protect abortion in a new BSP research poll commissioned by Voto Latino and first shared with TIME. Latino voters in battleground states cited women’s abortion rights as the second most important issue facing voters, the first time the issue of abortion has reached this level of prominence in a Voto Latino poll, according to María Teresa Kumar, the group’s president. and CEO. “We are social justice Catholics,” says Kumar. “We know that even the decision to have an abortion is a very private matter.”

The top issue for most was related to the economy: while 23% of Latino respondents from the battleground states of Texas, Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Georgia said protecting women’s right to abortion was their most important issue, 48% cited the cost of living and inflation as their top concern. But a majority of Latino voters (57%) said Republican politicians and candidates had gone too far to the “far right,” compared with 43% who said Democrats had gone too far to the left. Latinos were also turned off by Trump-style candidates, with 60% saying “MAGA Republicans are a threat to American democracy.”

Read more: The fight for Latino voters in Nevada is the future of American politics

Voto Latino found similar results in advertising tests it conducted this summer. The group showed a series of ads on issues such as the economy, abortion, infrastructure, and the January 6 insurrection to Latino adults who identified as moderates, and found that the most effective was the one in which a woman explains that she is religious but still concerned about Republicans taking away their abortion rights. “I grew up deeply rooted in the church,” the woman says, facing the camera. “I don’t know if I would ever feel comfortable having an abortion, but it’s a decision that should be made by a woman and her doctor.” People who saw the ad were 14 points more likely to vote for a Democrat than those who saw a placebo ad.

Meredith Kelly, a Democratic strategist who led communications for the House Democratic campaign arm in 2018, said that while the idea of ​​Republicans “taking away” abortion rights could motivate voters, Democrats have to fight to win over Americans who may have gone “numb” after settling into the new post-deer reality. But she argues that Democrats can remind voters of the consequences of Republicans likely passing more abortion restrictions if they take control of Congress and several state governments. “There’s a lot of future impact that’s not yet felt,” Kelly says. “It’s important to make sure people understand what could tragically happen to them, especially if Republicans take control of Congress.”

Those kinds of concerns resonated with some voters across Michigan’s political spectrum. Krystal Carpenter, a conservative from Mount Pleasant, Michigan, who had an abortion after being molested as a teenager, recently told TIME that she and her husband would vote for Whitmer this fall because of her support for the right to abortion. A little after deer was canceled in June, Carpenter had a doctor’s appointment and, to her surprise, was told she needed her husband’s permission to get a Pap test because of the way the office was interpreting the state’s restrictive abortion law of 1931. “I was furious,” Carpenter said. (The 1931 law is now blocked in state courts.) “A party I gave my time to, gave them my money, gave them my vote, told me I’m too stupid to control mine womb,” she said. “We’re voting Democrat.

Democrats hope to win over more voters like Carpenter ahead of Election Day.

-With report from Mini Racker/Washington

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Write to Abigail Abrams at abigail.abrams@time.com.


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