The Kansas abortion vote was a stunner. But what does this mean for the midterms?


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Almost six weeks have passed since the Supreme Court took away the right to abortion in America and around this time, there were multiple signs of a backlash underway.

A rise of grassroots activism behalf Abortion rights. A sharp drop in small donations to Republicans. A kill of polls showing that the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was very unpopular.

But these were only clues. There was no way of knowing if the decision would affect the election results ― until Tuesday, when Kansas voters decisively rejected an anti-abortion ballot measure.

The proposal would have changed the Kansas constitution, paving the way for Republican legislators to enact sweeping, if not total, bans on abortion. He failed by 18 points.

Or, to put it another way, nearly 6 in 10 Kansans just voted to keep abortion legal — which, as HuffPost’s Alanna Vagianos explained in his dispatch from Wichita, has great significance beyond state lines.

“Since Roe’s fall, just over a dozen states in the South and Midwest have already severely restricted or banned abortion, making Kansas an unexpected haven for abortion care. Texas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Missouri and Arkansas have all completely banned abortion. Other states, including North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Iowa, are in court challenging the harsh restrictions or waiting for the bans to take effect. Put all these states together and you have most of the Midwest and much of the South.

But what about the political implications? What optimism can abortion rights advocates get from Kansas? What would it take to achieve similar results in other states and nationally?

The turnout numbers are mind-boggling

Probably the most encouraging sign for pro-abortion rights supporters is the turnout. About 910,000 residents voted, which is more than double the turnout in the last two primaries and approaching presidential election levels.

A particularly telling statistic is the turnout among “unaffiliated” voters, that is, those Kansans who did not register with one party or the other, meaning they did not couldn’t even vote in the nominating contests for US Senate, Governor and other races.

“It was done intentionally to make sure people wouldn’t vote, and I think the opposite happened.”

– Ethan Winter, Data for Progress

In recent primaries, only a few thousand unaffiliated voters voted. This time over 150,000 did so, according to a chart of Daniel Donnerelection editor of DailyKos.

The numbers are particularly notable given that supporters of the amendment chose the August primary contest, over the November general election, because the primary typically gets lower turnout and more Republicans.

“It was done intentionally to make sure people wouldn’t vote, and I think the opposite happened,” Ethan Wintersenior analyst at Data for progress who conducted field polls during the Kansas referendum, told HuffPost. “It was a decisive victory.”

Another data point seems relevant.

It’s about who registered to vote in Kansas after June 24, when the Supreme Court issued the Dobbs decision. Democrats had an 8-point advantage during that time, TargetSmart CEO Thomas Bonier noted on Twitter, even though GOP registrations outnumbered Democrats statewide by 12 points. And 70% of new entrants were women.

This last part is particularly interesting given recent history. Donald Trump’s presidency has galvanized female voters, many of whom were previously disengaged from politics. It’s a big reason Republicans lost control of Congress in 2018, and he lost the presidency in 2020.

It’s not so hard to imagine something similar happening now, because the Dobbs decision makes real a threat to women’s rights that was previously, or seemed to many, purely hypothetical.

Kansas politics matters too

That said, some of the political conditions in Kansas opposed the amendment in ways that might not work against similar measures in other conservative states — or against candidates who oppose abortion rights. in these states.

On the one hand, ballot initiatives can run into “status quo bias”. Voters are understandably wary of change, and there is in fact a history of abortion restrictions failing at the polls, even when polls suggest the public is sympathetic to the cause. (jonathan robinsonresearch director at Catalistwrote about this phenomenon here.)

Whether abortion rights will boost Democrats in November will depend on Democrats on the ballot, making abortion a central issue. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (left) is among those trying to do just that.

Bill Pugliano via Getty Images

And while Kansas is a red state in a red part of the country, it’s not as conservative as it seems. Its incumbent governor is a Democrat and public opinion on abortion is equally divided, according to Pew Research.

“Central Plains states are less socially conservative than their reputation,” said Natalie Jacksonresearch director at PRRI (and the HuffPost alum survey editor). “Kansas is not Oklahoma. Kansas is not Texas. … Kansas is not the Deep South.

Another caveat is that Republican voters who would reject abortion bans on an up or down vote would not necessarily reject candidates who support such bans — in Kansas or elsewhere.

“These Republicans are more likely to vote for a pro-life Republican than to vote for a pro-choice Democrat simply because they’re not just voting on one issue,” Jackson said. “They vote on a set of issues and unless abortion is their only key motivation, they’re always going to choose that Republican or that Democrat.”

Much depends on the framing in November

That said, Democrats trying to win elections can succeed by winning even a small number of Republican voters — or by increasing the turnout of Democrats and independents who prioritize abortion rights.

“A candidate’s strategy in a swing district, for a Democrat, is definitely to keep abortion top of mind — keep beating that drum, Republicans will act to take it down right away,” Jackson said. “It may not necessarily change votes, but it can have a significant impact on turnout…if you’re a Democrat, you leave a lot on the floor if you don’t push for abortion.”

It’s also possible that Dobbs has changed the usual dynamic of a midterm election, in which a new president with a majority in Congress tries to push through an ambitious agenda – then faces a reprimand because the public worries about so many changes.

“I’ve always described the medium-term effect as sort of balancing out,” Winter said. “But with Dobbs, it’s the Republicans who are disrupting the status quo the most.”

Winter said the effects could be particularly strong in states where Democratic governors or gubernatorial candidates can argue that it is they and their allies in the legislature who oppose new abortion restrictions or bans. that the Republicans would adopt.

“Kansas is not Oklahoma. Kansas is not Texas. … Kansas is not the Deep South.

– Natalie Jackson, PRRI

A state where it can is already happening in Michiganwhere Tudor Dixon tuesday won the primary challenge the incumbent Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer. Dixon said she supports a 1931 abortion law that is still in effect and would be oppose the creation of exceptions for rape or incest.

Whitmer has been warning of the threat to abortion rights for months. She and the Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel swore not to apply the law of 1931, while asking MichiganSupreme Court to declare the ban inconsistent with the state’s constitutional guarantees of individual rights.

Whitmer, Nessel and their fellow Democrats across the state also support an election measure that would enshrine reproductive rights once and for all in the state constitution. It’s on the ballot because the organizers submitted more than 750,000 signatures, which was both a record and nearly double what the measurement needed to qualify. (Several other states also have such measures on their November ballots.)

After Tudor won the nomination on Tuesday, Whitmer wasted no time in making abortion rights the issue. A fundraising email sent at 10:30 p.m. called Dixon a “dangerous candidate” and supported him with quotes from Dixon on abortion. All signs point to more attacks like this ― on the stump, on social media and on the airwaves.

Not every Democrat running in November will be able to make abortion such a big issue in their campaigns. But if Kansas is showing anything, it’s that Democrats should try — and if they’re successful, they can preserve access to abortion for millions.




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