If the Republican Party wishes to continue to be a national party, the time has come for it to shut up about abortion. The bottom line — evidenced by a new survey released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life — is that taking a strong position against federally protected abortion rights is a political loser for a party that wants to be competitive in 50 states.
The Pew survey, titled "Roe v. Wade at 40," tells us a few things about the American electorate. First, a very strong majority of Americans — 63 percent — would not like to see the Supreme Court completely discard Roe, whereas only 29 percent favor the court striking it down. This is not, however, the interesting part, since these figures have remained stable over time. Pew has conducted the survey three times, and the general breakdown of support has hardly changed ('92: 60-34; '03: 62-31; '13: 63-29). Other statistics, however, stand out.
The most revealing figure is how abortion polls among self-identified Republicans. While the latest GOP platform takes strong anti-abortion positions, Pew found that a near-majority of Republicans — 48 percent — do not support overturning Roe, compared with 46 percent who do. The difference is slim, but nevertheless, it raises some questions about why the GOP continues to take such a strong position at all. The conventional wisdom — that culture warriors would not turn out at the ballot box if Republicans backpedaled on abortion — seems questionable at best. Any enthusiasm gained from taking a vigorous anti-abortion stance would seem to be offset by the other half of the party, which is clearly turned off by the battle over Roe.
As has been widely discussed, America’s demographics are changing rapidly, and it is widely accepted that the GOP cannot win by appealing only to white evangelical voters. With that in mind, it should be deeply concerning that white evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group in which a majority (54 percent) favors completely overturning Roe. In contrast, 76 percent of white mainline Protestants, 65 percent of black Protestants, and 63 percent of Catholics told Pew they did not support overturning the decision.
At the end of the day, it yields little, if any, political value to make opposition to federally protected abortion rights a central plank of the party platform. People simply do not think that abortion matters that much. About 53 percent of those polled told Pew they did not think abortion was that important when compared with other issues, while only 18 percent view abortion as a critical issue. Oh, and independents oppose overturning Roe 64-24.
A leader without followers is just a guy taking a walk. By loudly thumping its chest on abortion, the GOP divides its own party and wastes time over an issue that more than half the country does not think is very important. These figures suggest that the best political decision when it comes to abortion is to talk about it as little as possible.
Jeb Golinkin is a 3L at the University of Texas School of Law and writes about U.S. politics and policy for TheWeek.com. From 2008 to 2011, he served as an editor and reporter for Frum Forum/New Majority. Follow him on Twitter (@JGolinkin) and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.