The Washington Examiner's insightful David Drucker filmed a debriefing segment Friday with Sarah Westwood in which he discussed the effect that the likely overturning of the Roe v. Wade abortion decision will have on the 2022 election. He noted that strategists from both parties are unusually open about their ignorance. The consequences are much less predictable than most run-of-the-mill political happenings.
Drucker quoted one Democratic operative as stating, “If anybody thinks they know exactly what's going to happen, then they don't know what they're talking about."
He is probably right. Personally, I doubt that Roe will save Democrats, just based on the history. In the last 15 years since the Gonzales v. Carhart decision weakened Roe, the issue never has bolstered the Democrats. Republicans have been passing restrictive state-level abortion laws, and Democrats have often (most recently in 2021 in the Virginia governor's race) tried unsuccessfully to campaign against them. In every case I'm aware of, exit polling has shown that efforts to make abortion a big campaign issue motivate pro-life voters more than they motivate the other side. As Mark Shields used to observe after presidential elections, there is usually a modest net benefit to the pro-life candidate when abortion becomes the issue.
However, one must at least allow for the possibility that with Roe itself in danger, there could be a different or stronger reaction among voters supportive of legal abortion. In other words, you need to be on the lookout for some kind of evidence that things are different this time.
And that may yet materialize. But we haven't seen it so far.
Since the May 2 leak of Justice Alito’s draft decision overturning Roe, there has been exactly one poll taken on the congressional generic ballot question — the one that asks voters which party's candidate they intend to support this November. CNN had actually polled this question in the three days immediately before the leak and found Republicans with a 1-point advantage. But when CNN polled again after the leak, between May 3 and May 5, Republicans suddenly had a 7-point advantage — the largest GOP advantage in the history of CNN’s generic ballot poll. From what I could tell, it is tied only with one other CNN survey this century, taken in September 2010.
I'm not saying that this is a result of the leak — only that the leak does not yet seem to be having the effect that Democrats were hoping for. Obviously, Supreme Court justices should not make decisions based on the potential electoral consequences. Also, most pro-lifers I know would be proud to lose an election for doing what’s right on the abortion issue. But maybe the choice between doing the right thing and losing is a false choice.
The CNN poll is just the first indication — not proof, but evidence — that Roe has long been a paper tiger in the Democrats’ hands. The Supreme Court decision that forbids states from restricting or even properly regulating abortion is something that most people still tell pollsters they support, but they may not be too bothered when it's gone and many U.S. states either abolish abortion or restrict it in a manner similar to European countries, just like the Mississippi law that is the subject of the Supreme Court's impending decision.