One of the biggest surprises of this week's off-year elections was the failure of Mississippi's controversial 'personhood' amendment, which would have defined a fertilized human egg as a person. Polls suggested the measure would pass easily in the strongly anti-abortion state. Instead, it lost 57 percent to 43 percent. What happened? Here, three lessons:
1. The anti-abortion movement is split
The "personhood" amendment would have passed if it had been a clear-cut matter of abortion rights advocates vs. anti-abortion activists, says Lauren Markoe of Religion News Service. But some anti-abortion groups, Christian leaders, and doctors opposed the amendment because of its potential to prohibit cancer treatment for pregnant women, block in vitro fertilization, ban common types of birth control and lead to other unintended consequences. Even outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour, who supported the amendment, expressed doubts. Anti-abortion advocates learned a lesson, says Thomas Peters at CatholicVote.org. "When we are absolutely unified and engaged, we can win. When we are not, we suffer setbacks."
2. You can't always trust polls
Sometimes, people tell pollsters what they think they're supposed to say, not what they really believe, says Amanda Marcotte at Slate. In conservative Mississippi, "the religious Right has so much social control" that many people reflexively said they'd support "personhood." But left to decide for themselves in the voting booth, many citizens obviously changed their minds, and the holdout "undecideds" voted no, en masse.
3. The conservative surge is over
"Somebody needs to break the news to the Republican candidates looking to unseat President Barack Obama," says the Baltimore Sun in an editorial, "that the conservative tide that swept the nation in 2010 has receded." A short while back, when Republicans were riding high, right-wing activists might have gotten away with this. But "calling for strict limits on the reproductive rights of women won't necessarily play well in 2012."