Articles

Don’t Believe the Hype About Abortion

November 16, 2023
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There’s a tendency in politics to ascribe success and failure to one thing when it’s really more complicated. That has been the case with most coverage of last week’s elections. “Abortion issues burn GOP” screamed ABC News. “Democrats see big wins” shouted Roll Call, which said “access to abortion” was “front and center.”

The key example offered for this line of reasoning was Virginia’s state legislative elections, in which Democrats held the Senate, losing only one seat, and flipped the House by picking up three. Vox’s Rachel Cohen described the results in Virginia and elsewhere as “a resounding victory for Democrats and abortion rights supporters.” But is holding a 21-19 majority in the Senate and a 51-49 majority in the House really a resounding victory?

I think not. Virginia is a blue state that Mr. Biden carried 54% to 44% in 2020. Last week Republicans won in seven House districts Mr. Biden carried in 2020 by up to 10 points and four Senate districts he won by up to 9 points. Democrats didn’t flip a single district Donald Trump took. These margins don’t fit with the notion that abortion draws large numbers of independents and Republicans to vote for Democratic candidates.

Two factors probably had a bigger effect than abortion. The commonwealth was redistricted before the election. That benefited Democrats last week, according to Sean Trende, a senior election analyst at RealClearPolitics. Since Virginia is blue, the redistricting resulted in more solidly Democratic districts than solidly Republican ones. Mr. Trende was one of the special masters appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court to draw the lines.

Offsetting the Democratic redistricting advantage was the popularity of Virginia’s Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin. An Oct. 16 Washington Post/Schar School poll found that 54% of Virginians approved of the governor’s job performance and 39% disapproved. Only 43% of the same respondents thought Mr. Biden was doing a good job, while 55% didn’t. This favorability advantage for Republicans helped GOP candidates grab districts that normally would have gone Democratic.

Given that their state has trended Democratic for years, Virginia Republicans held up admirably against a challenging map. The GOP would cheer if it pulled off similar margin changes in 2024. If Republicans flipped every U.S. House seat Democrats won by 10 points or less in 2022, the GOP would rack up 50 seats—a 271-seat majority, the biggest GOP seat haul since 1928.

GOP Senate candidates would also be sitting pretty if they do as well in 2024 as Virginia Republican Senate hopefuls did last week. If GOP candidates won every state Mr. Biden carried by 9 points or less in 2020 and all the Trump states, there would be new Republican senators from Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin—giving the GOP a 58-seat majority.

Abortion-rights advocates also point to Kentucky, where incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear defeated Trump-backed Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, 52.5% to 47.5%. Ms. Cohen wrote that Mr. Beshear’s re-election provides “the clearest evidence” that abortion drew “voters of all persuasions” to support Democrats.

There’s a tendency in politics to ascribe success and failure to one thing when it’s really more complicated. That has been the case with most coverage of last week’s elections. “Abortion issues burn GOP” screamed ABC News. “Democrats see big wins” shouted Roll Call, which said “access to abortion” was “front and center.”

The key example offered for this line of reasoning was Virginia’s state legislative elections, in which Democrats held the Senate, losing only one seat, and flipped the House by picking up three. Vox’s Rachel Cohen described the results in Virginia and elsewhere as “a resounding victory for Democrats and abortion rights supporters.” But is holding a 21-19 majority in the Senate and a 51-49 majority in the House really a resounding victory?

I think not. Virginia is a blue state that Mr. Biden carried 54% to 44% in 2020. Last week Republicans won in seven House districts Mr. Biden carried in 2020 by up to 10 points and four Senate districts he won by up to 9 points. Democrats didn’t flip a single district Donald Trump took. These margins don’t fit with the notion that abortion draws large numbers of independents and Republicans to vote for Democratic candidates.

Read More at the WSJ

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