Assessing the impact of abortion issue, demographics on the 2022 midterms

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In some respects, it’s hard to determine the outcome of the Nov. 8 midterm elections. That’s because, in many key races, the outcomes are as clear as the mud that was flung during the campaign.

Do we know which party will control the House? Or the Senate? Not at this writing. There are too may contests outstanding — realizing that “outstanding” doesn’t mean terrific or superior — with races too close to call.

Did Republicans make gains? It seems so. But the gains were slim compared to what typically happens in the midterms for the party not in the White House. It may be enough to push the GOP into the majority in the House, although its margin could wind up being narrower than the Democrats had after the 2020 election. Still, a majority is a majority.

It may not exactly be a house divided, but it could be a Congress divided. For the Senate, it may well come down to the winner of the Senate race in Georgia, which is going to a runoff just as it did two years ago.

Those labeled “election deniers” fared poorly across the board. While it was not a total shutout, candidates who maintained that election chicanery denied former President Donald Trump reelection two years ago came up short.

“It’s interesting that I think democracy was an issue, but particularly on the Republican side, almost all of the people that lost graciously conceded. Some of them took a while, but they conceded. But it’s important — very important. And it gives some hope that we’ll return to a more traditional areas of disagreement,” said John White, a professor of political science at The Catholic University of America, Washington.

“But I don’t count on that. I think the small-d democratic crisis remains with us, as does that there still has to be an ongoing concern about political violence, sadly,” he added. “I have a sense that voters don’t like crazy, that is, this sort of extreme MAGA (Make America Great Again) Republican, if you will. It does not fare well with voters,” particularly independent voters.

In CNN’s exit polling, democracy was not presented to voters as an issue as was abortion or inflation. They were asked, though, “Is democracy in the United States secure, or is it threatened? “Threatened” was the response of 72% and “secure” was the answer of 26% — a margin of nearly three to one. Regardless of how they answered, 56% in each group said they voted Democratic.

Abortion was the top concern of 26% of respondents in exit polling by CNN. “Clearly, abortion was an issue, and it clearly helped Democrats,” White said. “We look at nearly 50 years of polling on the abortion issue. And it’s one of those things where you say, ‘I don’t trust the polls.’ That’s BS. When you have that much polling over that period of time, you have some consistent answers.

“One is that the public believes abortion should be rare, they don’t believe in partial-birth abortion, they have great issues about abortion after the first trimester, and they’re very divided if a woman should have an abortion if she doesn’t want any more children,” White told Catholic News Service in a Nov. 10 phone interview. “There is a big question about whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.”

“And,” he continued, “if you go to abortion laws” on the books before Roe — and in some states, “long before Roe” — “that was a gigantic motivator.”

“And whenever abortion is on the ballot, whether to amend the state constitutions to outlaw it altogether, Republicans lose. It’s that simple, they lose. And they lost heavily among 18-30-year-olds. And that’s the future of the country,” White said. “That is my analysis.”

He pointed to Bill Clinton, “probably the most tactile politician of my time,” who developed the “safe, legal and rare” triad on abortion. “But I don’t think voters change their minds about abortion,” he said. “I think they changed their minds about the Republican Party on this issue.”

White added, “Walter Mondale tried this in 1984 by warning of the dangers of the Supreme Court with Reagan appointees. Voters didn’t buy that, because it was a hypothetical. Abortion was a means of rallying the Republican base without believing that Roe would be overturned.

“If the court followed the advice of (Chief Justice of the United States) John Roberts to allow the Mississippi law to go through without overturning Roe, it wouldn’t have become the issue in the election.”

Moreover, the high court has “taken a big hit in terms of its credibility. and it’s now seen as a highly partisan body,” White said. “There was a bit of this in 2000 with Bush v. Gore. We’ll have to see whether this lasts. Certainly in the aftermath of Dobbs (v. Jackson), it’s been a tremendous hit for the court.”

Inflation and pocketbook issues ranked higher than abortion among voters in the CNN exit poll, but not by much: 32% to 27%. “It’s the old James Carville line, ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ In today’s parlance, ‘It’s inflation, stupid.’ The old Carville adage doesn’t hold up,” White said. “The old Carville maxim, it has power, don’t get me wrong. It has considerable power. It’s not the be-all and end-all that we previously assumed.”

The war in Ukraine did not motivate midterm voters. Neither did last year’s messy pullout from Afghanistan. China did, but, according to White, more along the lines of trade and President Joe Biden wanting to bring manufacturing back to the United States.

Voter demographics in the exit poll could provide much to analyze as the political parties shed 2022 and set their sights on 2024, a presidential election year.

Among age groups, the older the age group, the more politically conservative their outlook. Those ages 65 and up were 50%-48% for the GOP, the 45-64 age group tied between Democrats and Republicans, the 30-44 age group tilted 40%-34% toward the Dems, but the 18-29-year-old demographic went 72%-26% for the Democrats. “That, again, is the future of the electorate,” White said.

“It’s that youngest cohort (that) may be most affected by the abortion issue, but we’ve seen that in the Trump era. Gen X, but really Gen Z, is turned off by Trump,” he added. “The FDR generation mattered for a long time. The Korean War generation rally mattered. The Reagan generation really mattered. It’s still out there” among the nation’s oldest voters.”

CNN did not track Catholics. However, it did track church attendance.

“If you do so (go to church) only occasionally, which is 40% of all voters, 56% were Democratic,” White said.

Of those who never attend, “which is 27% of all voters,” he said, “they went 79% Democratic. If you add those two together, that was 67% of the electorate who “occasionally or never” go to church.

By the same token, those who attend weekly or more frequently went 61% for the Republicans on the ballot. They comprised 34% of all voters.

White, a Maryland resident, said he voted early. He had been in Rome before Election Day, and flew back to the United States the night before the election. “But you never know if your flight is going to be canceled,” he said. He called the early voting process in his state “easy.”

“We know the early vote tends to be more Democratic. The Republicans have also encouraged early voting, absentee voting, they put a lot of stock in it. Here in the Trump era, they have not,” he said. “I think that’s something Republicans could take a lesson from,” he added. Otherwise, “you’re banking solely on your Election Day vote.”

After all, White said, ” It’s not Election Day anymore. It’s Election Week.”

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