If abortion is poised to transform American politics, it has so far barely registered in the initial public reaction to a proposed US Supreme Court ruling.
The first figures do not speak of a seismic change in opinion. A slight rumble, perhaps.
We now have several polls to judge the public’s reaction to last week’s explosive news of an unreported ruling from the nation’s highest court.
The leaked draft suggests the court is set to overturn a five-decade precedent that abortion access is a constitutional right and instead let states set their own policy.
Democrats have quickly turned to abortion as a potential winning message in state and congressional midterm elections this fall.
The issue is seen as a way to galvanize young voters, whose recent disenchantment puts the majority party at risk of severe annihilation.
Making abortion the ballot box issue would also allow Democrats to side with the majority of Americans who constantly tell pollsters they want Roe v. Wade remains intact.
That strategy was on display this week as Democrats staged a hopeless vote in Congress to pass abortion rights legislation, then turned it into a midterm message.
Vice President Kamala Harris stood outside the Senate chamber and said abortion was now a matter for voters to decide – the argument being that holding the Senate would allow Democrats to confirm more pro-choice judges and maybe even pass a law if they win more. seats.
Harris approached the cameras after her party failed to win a majority, as Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin opposed the abortion measure.
“[This] makes it clear that a priority for anyone who cares about this issue — the priority should be electing pro-choice leaders,” the vice president said.
“At the local, state and federal level.”
What the headlines say
US President Joe Biden tweeted a similar message — as have many other Democrats who argue that only midterm voters can prevent abortion rights from disappearing in about two dozen states if the Supreme Court’s proposed ruling stands when the decision is finally made.
But these voters are not moving. At least not yet.
What several new polls say in a nutshell is that Biden remains unpopular; his party remains in peril; and those numbers haven’t changed at all.
“Early results suggest this won’t be a panacea for Democrats,” said Cameron Easley, editor of polling firm Morning Consult.
“Based on the data we’re seeing right now, I think the answer to that question is no.”
Presidential job approval is seen as an indicator of the mood of the electorate – and Biden’s score remains weak and stagnant.
There has been a similar lack of movement in Congressional preference: polling companies show no statistically significant change, with Democrats clinging to a tiny popular-vote lead that likely wouldn’t be enough to retain control of Congress. .
Now for the fine print
But a closer look at the fine print of those investigations could give Democrats at least some miniature seedlings of hope.
There are signs of increased enthusiasm among Democratic voters. And that’s a fundamental factor in midterm elections, because voter turnout tends to be weak, and small changes in turnout can trigger seismic differences.
The latest Morning Consult poll, May 6-9, found a sudden tightening of the so-called enthusiasm gap after months of Republicans expressing a much greater eagerness to vote this year.
It showed the percentage of Democrats describing themselves as “extremely excited” about voting this year jumped eight percentage points from two weeks ago.
17% of 18-24 year olds came forward in 2014. Democrats got beat up.
32% of 18-24 year olds showed up in 2018. The Democrats won.
If the young people run, the Democrats win. pic.twitter.com/LBNdpKPsLP
Young voters are key: they are particularly supportive of abortion access, and their level of enthusiasm has increased in the latest Morning Consult poll.
Last month, Republicans held a more daunting advantage, with their voters 12 percentage points more likely to say they were extremely enthusiastic, compared to seven points now.
And respondents from different surveys were also more likely to describe abortion as a top issue for them in determining their vote this fall.
“A few ideas that things could change”
“That could be a leading indicator of something,” said Kathy Frankovic, a representative for YouGov.
“There are suspicions that things could change. But we really have to wait.”
There are such suspicions in different polls. Monmouth University polling institute says abortion has risen to the forefront of problems voters find it important, suddenly ranking alongside the economy and ahead of other topics. The same pollster says opinion of the Supreme Court plunged.
There are other data points telling a similar, albeit subtle, story.
YouGov finds abortion still far less important than the economy, but it has climbed up the priority list, especially for Democrats — dropping from the top priority of just 2% of Democratic voters to 10%.
“This is [a] quite a big change,” Frankovic said.
That’s why Easley offers three caveats to his broader conclusion that the current numbers don’t look promising for Democrats.
His first caveat is that sudden outburst of passion. It’s a game changer, with the economy faltering and their party struggling to get signature pledges through Congress.
Of the impending fight against abortion, Easley said, “It kind of sped up the democratic intensity a bit.”
His second warning? Even a small shift in public opinion could make a difference in a close Senate race or two, and it could decide who controls this powerful chamber.
Then there is his third and final caveat: that nothing has happened yet. All we’ve seen is a draft court opinion, leaked to Politico.
Crowds of protesters came to the Supreme Court last week to express their anger over the leaked draft ruling. Among them was Sarah Elder of Baltimore, who called the report devastating and a sign of backsliding on oppression.
She said she thought it would influence the midterm reviews. “I hope this inspires a lot of people who were on the fence to come out and vote for our cause,” she said.
But the court’s decision is not expected until July, and the reality of the state’s repression of abortion will only be seen afterwards. And that’s why Frankovic withholds judgment on the political fallout.
“We really have to wait for the decision to come,” she said. “That’s not the last word on this.”