Opinion

Did the Supreme Court's abortion decision save Democrats from losing Congress?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

Opinion polls show that voters care most about the economy — voters almost always care most about the economy — and inflation and other economic drags weighing down President Biden and the Democrats as they head into November's midterm elections. 

"Still, the economy isn't the only issue getting more attention this year," The Associated Press reports. "Many also prioritize other issues that are core to Biden and Democrats' agenda, including abortion, women's rights, and gun policy, which could help Democrats as they try to pad — or at least protect — their razor-thin majority." 

There is some evidence that the polling is turning positive for Democrats after the Supreme Court's unpopular decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion. But is it enough to trump the conventional wisdom that Republicans are a shoo-in to sweep the midterms?

Give Dems a chance

In the 10 generic congressional ballot polls released since the Supreme Court struck down Roe, Democrats are now beating Republicans by an average of 1.7 percentage points, a swing of about 3-5 percentage points in Democrats' favor, Simon Rosenberg writes at the New Democrat Network. With the momentum on their side and "Democrats now consistently leading in the generic ballot, it is a new election, a competitive not a wave election, and all talk of a Republican wave should end."

The biggest shift was in Marist's polling, which went from Democrats being down 3 points in April, before the leaked Supreme Court opinion forecast Roe's demise, to up 7 points in June, a swing of 10 points. 

"The decision by SCOTUS has sent shockwaves through the electorate," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "Men are +12 points and women are +18 points more likely to support congressional candidates who pledge to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade. Digging deeper, 63 percent of women, including 74 percent of suburban women, are also concerned that the court's decision is a harbinger of things to come."

Nope, everything's coming up Republicans

"While we might see progressive voters energized after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Democrats are probably in pretty deep trouble," FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver told ABC News. "In fact, our model puts their chances of keeping the House at only 10 to 15 percent." Politico's detailed election forecast currently rates the House "likely Republican" and the Senate "leans Republican."

If you average all the generic congressional ballot polls, Democrats are down by about 2 percentage points, but "in important ways, that 2-point deficit understates the degree of trouble that Democrats are in," Silver writes at FiveThirtyEight. Most of those polls surveyed registered voters, not likely voters, and "the electorate that turns out in November is likely to be more Republican." Adding individual polling and fundraising data plus input from election handicappers, he adds, "the Deluxe forecast expects Democrats to eventually lose the popular vote for the House by closer to 6 points, about the margin that they lost it by in 2014."

Democrats have a real shot at winning the Senate

"When asked to share their candid thoughts about the Democrats' chances of hanging onto their House majority in the coming election, party strategists often use words that cannot be printed in a family newsletter," Blake Hounshell writes at The New York Times. "But a brighter picture is coming together for Democrats on the Senate side." 

The Senate map this year is reasonably friendly to Democrats, and "Senate races can be more distinct than House races, influenced less by national trends, and more by candidates' personalities," Hounshell explains. And this year, "Republicans are assembling what one top strategist laughingly described as an 'island of misfit toys' — a motley collection of candidates the Democratic Party hopes to portray as out of the mainstream on policy, personally compromised, and too cozy with Donald Trump."

"If the election were held today, polls suggest that Democrats would be narrowly favored to retain Senate control," Hounshell writes, though "as we've seen from the Supreme Court's abortion ruling and from the explosive allegations that emerged in the latest testimony against Trump, the political environment can shift quickly." Polls are also fallible, Biden's approval rating remains low, and inflation is still the No. 1 concern, he adds. But "for now, Democrats are pretty pleased with themselves for making lemonade out of a decidedly sour political environment."

Democrats should win but will probably cannibalize themselves

"One may have assumed the end of Roe would unite the Democrats in shared fury. But the response instead has been Democrats getting mad at . . . Democrats," A.B. Stoddard sighs at The Bulwark. "The abortion war, should Democrats allow it, could unite their coalition and divide the GOP. It's a culture battle worth waging."

Instead, Stoddard writes, faced with Republicans previewing what they would do with power — "a raped and pregnant 10-year-old crossing state lines for an abortion. A coup against our government led by a president eager to send a mob he knew was armed to threaten the vice president and members of Congress" — Democrats "are more focused on cannibalizing our coalition than addressing the emergency — which requires defeating Republicans."

That should be self-evident, but big-name progressive lawmakers are saying that "because Democrats couldn't deliver on voting rights, police reform, and a revolutionary social-welfare program, then the answer is for their voters [to] stay home and help elect Republicans," Stoddard argues. "If there is a GOP wave, it will be the result of a refusal of Democratic voters to turn out," she adds. "Rage posting on Instagram is not the same as rage voting. Pushing back against the dystopian tide will take resources, and energy, and all hands on deck. Pouting is simply dangerous."

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