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Will Dobbs Help Democrats? Will the Mar-a-Lago Raid Help Republicans?

Michael Barone on

Are Republicans losing what seemed for months to be their overwhelming advantage in elections to the House of Representatives this November? The answer is unclear.

Optimistic Democrats have been thinking the Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision overturning Roe v. Wade will trigger an increase in Democratic turnout and a rethinking by Republican-leaning voters who don't want to see abortion criminalized.

Optimistic Republicans have started thinking the FBI and Justice Department's search of Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump's residence in Palm Beach, Florida, will trigger a recoil by Republican-leaning voters who may have qualms about the former president but also fear what many regard as prosecutorial persecution.

Optimists are often wrong about political trends. They tend to identify 10 of the last two turning points in public opinion. But sometimes, they get things right. And there's a nontrivial possibility that both parties' optimists may be right this year.

Consider the first claim. The Dobbs decision was announced on June 24. The first electoral test of the abortion issue came in the Kansas primary on Aug. 5. A referendum to overturn a state Supreme Court decision recognizing abortion as a right and leaving the issue to the legislature was rejected 59% to 41%. Far more Kansans voted on that issue (922,000) than in either major party's primary for governor (738,000). It's obvious that many Republicans voted for the pro-abortion rights position.

Three qualifiers should be noted. First, partisan turnout in the primary (62% of two-party turnout) was in line with party registration data (63% Republican).

 

Second, the picture of Kansas as a uniformly conservative rural state is misleading. In the referendum, 27% of the votes were cast in Johnson County, which contains most of metro Kansas City's affluent suburbs. Most of the noncollege white people in that urban area live on the Missouri side of the line. Because of Johnson County, Trump's percentage in Kansas declined in 2020, unlike next-door Missouri and Oklahoma.

Third, the Kansas referendum seemed to force voters to choose between a total ban on abortion -- possible in the legislature, given the state's history -- and allowing abortion with some restrictions. Polls have consistently shown that banning all abortions, like opposing all restrictions, is unpopular.

Beyond Kansas, there's some evidence that previously dispirited Democrats are rallying. The RealClearPolitics generic ballot average, tracking which party respondents favor for Congress, showed a 44% to 41% Republican lead on June 23. Now, it's 44% to 44%. Historically, that question has underrated Republican performance, but the trend could be meaningful.

It's less apparent when you look at total partisan turnout, tabulated by pollster John Couvillon. He shows 53% of two-party turnout this year was Republican, significantly higher than the 47% Republican in 2018. Republican turnout is up 20% and Democratic turnout down 5%.

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