Republicans seemed so close to a massive midterm victory in 2022. Then the reality of their anti-abortion ideology started to drop. Now, Democrats are gaining ground again, and the outcome of this November's election seems much less clear.
With gas prices high, inflation still rising, and Democrats still tainted by bad COVID policy, polls in late 2021 and the first half of 2022 showed American swing voters leaning heavily Republican. For instance, Gallup polling on independent voters found Democrats' nine-point advantage over Republicans at the start of 2021 shifted to a five-point Republican advantage by the end of the year. In March, independents surveyed by The Wall Street Journal favored Republicans by 12 percentage points, and 46 percent of respondents overall said they would back a Republican candidate for Congress, while only 41 percent would back a Democrat. And in a PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll conducted in April, 47 percent of respondents said they would vote for a Republican candidate if the election were held then, compared to just 44 percent who favored Democrats. "Republicans have strong support among independents who break toward the GOP by 7 points, and only one in 10 say they're still undecided on which party to support," PBS reported.
Things look different now. And abortion may explain this shift.
In June, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade (1973) and upending the basis for legal abortion across America. Some Republican-controlled state legislatures rushed to pass new anti-abortion laws, while previously passed bans triggered by Roe's overturning also started taking effect.
Dobbs and its aftermath may have heartened hard-core pro-life factions. But early signs suggest it's not playing so well with the U.S. populace at large—a populace that remains moderately but significantly pro-choice.
Before Dobbs, "Republicans were cruising, and Democrats were having a hard time," Republican pollster and strategist Tony Fabrizio (who conducted the Wall Street Journal's poll in conjunction with Democratic pollster John Anzalone) said. "It's almost like the abortion issue came along and was kind of like a defibrillator to Democrats."
In the most recent Wall Street Journal poll, Democrats—down five points against Republicans back in March—hold a slight advantage. Respondents favored a Democratic congressional candidate over a GOP candidate 47 percent to 44 percent. This is "a lead that is within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points," the Journal points out. But it represents a six-point rise for Democrats since the March poll.
And the difference is more stark when considering only independent voters. Where Republicans led by 12 points among independents back in March, Democrats now lead by three points (38 percent to 35 percent). White, suburban women—a notoriously swing-voting group—now prefer a Democratic congressional candidate 52 percent to 40 percent.
Since the Dobbs decision came out, Democrats have been massively outpacing Republicans in new voter registrations in many states with restrictive abortion laws, with new voter registrations among women far outpacing those among men. The latest Wall Street Journal poll provides yet another sign that the issue of abortion will be motivating voters—and benefiting Democrats.
Asked about the most important issue in deciding their vote for Congress this November, 13 percent said abortion. It ranked only under the economy (16 percent) in issues of importance, outranking 35 other issues from inflation (11 percent) to immigration (7 percent), preserving democracy (5 percent), crime (2 percent), race issues (1 percent), and jobs (1 percent).
Asked how various issues would impact their likelihood to vote, 48 percent said the Supreme Court overturning Roe made them "much more likely" to vote, and 9 percent said it made them "somewhat more likely" to vote.
And when asked whether Democrats or Republicans would be better at handling "abortion policy," nearly half (48 percent) of respondents said Democrats, while just 27 percent said Republicans. (Sixteen percent said neither, and 6 percent said both equally.)
The Journal poll—conducted August 17–22 among 1,313 registered voters (more of whom were likely to describe themselves as conservative than liberal)—suggests that this fall's battle for control of Congress may be more competitive than anticipated and provides yet another sign that voters aren't totally enamored with Republican extremism on abortion.
Earlier signs include voters in the notoriously conservative state of Kansas rejecting in large numbers an anti-abortion ballot measure at the start of August.
The situation has gotten so iffy that some Republican candidates—including Blake Masters, a Republican candidate for Senate in Arizona, and Michigan congressional candidate Tom Barrett—have scrubbed their websites of more extreme anti-abortion language.