When Republicans were asked last year whether abortion would benefit Democrats in the midterm elections, they developed a mantra that amounted to something like, “Voters will be focused on real issues, like the economy, inflation, and immigration.”
“They’re talking about inflation. They’re talking about the border. They’re talking about the Afghanistan debacle," Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said in December 2021, previewing the strategy. “If you look at the polls and what people are caring about, that’s what they’re focused on.”
But a Republican memo obtained last week by Roll Call shows that abortion not only undercut Republican chances last year, it is also continuing to wreak electoral havoc on the party heading into 2024.
The memo, a national issue analysis by the Republican pollster co/efficient, found the Senate generic ballot has made a net-shift of 6 points toward Democrats over the past year, from R+3 to D+3. If that wasn't bad enough for the GOP, the House generic ballot has moved 10 points toward Democrats, from R+6 to D+4.
In both cases, the memo concluded the swing toward Democrats is primarily being driven by both new and independent voters who are focused on abortion.
"This movement is [led] overwhelmingly by Independent and NEW voters that identify abortion as one of their top issues,” co/efficient stated on slide 11 of a 34-slide presentation. “Reproductive Freedom is the #1 issue among those that DID NOT vote in 2020.”
First-time voters, swing voters, and independents have become an essential part of voting coalitions in the Trump era as partisans grow increasingly unlikely to cross the aisle. The near-singular exception to that fierce partisanship is a small but critical slice of anti-Trump Republicans who cast ballots for Democrats in the last two cycles as a rejection of Donald Trump, Trumpism, and MAGA election deniers. Indeed, a pro-democracy coalition of Democrats, independent voters, and GOP-leaning conservatives came together in 2022 to defeat MAGA election deniers up and down the ballot in battleground states.
The Republican memo is an admission that the party’s anti-abortion extremism has been a key driver of voter disaffection, with swing voters, independents and new voters leading the charge. That news comes as two recent Washington Post focus groups indicate Trump and Trumpism are absolute swing-voter repellants.
The focus groups of 15 Trump-to-Biden swing voters from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin weren't all good news for Democrats. The eight independents, four Democrats and three Republicans registered dismay when shown a video of Joe Biden, eliciting words such as "sad," "sorry" and "concern." The participants uniformly worried about Biden's age crippling his ability to do the job both mentally and physically.
But all of that negative emotion paled in comparison to the possibility of Trump winning another term.
“Whatever the step above panicked is, that is what I feel about Trump,” said a registered Democrat.
When asked about Trump retaking the White House, these swing voters offered words such as “nervous,” “scared,” “sick,” and “horrified” to describe their emotions.
A fifty-something Wisconsin voter said another Trump presidency would make him “feel like I was living in Nazi Germany.”
In a Biden-Trump rematch, nine of the 15 said they would choose Biden, three said Trump, and three opted for neither, giving Biden three-quarters of those who would opt for one of them. Though the groups aren't statistically representative, the numbers suggest Biden continues to be the heavy favorite among those who defected from Trump to Biden in 2020.
Interestingly, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his brash MAGA branding as "Trump without the baggage" didn't play any better against Biden with these swing voters. A majority favored Biden while five either chose DeSantis or said they were undecided.
“Someone had said he was a mini-Trump. I have to agree with that," said one woman who had lived in Florida. "He’s very divisive also. ... He would separate the country.”
Extremism now defines the Republican Party, and Trump, Trumpism, and anti-abortion zealotry, perhaps more so than any other issues, exemplify that extremism both in terms of vibe and real-world consequences.
They also continue to drive independent and swing voters further away from the Republican Party the longer they stay in public view. As badly as Trump played for Republicans in 2020 (as did anti-abortion and MAGA extremism in 2022), they threaten to have an even more devastating impact on Republican candidates and the party as a whole in 2024.
We speak with Anderson Clayton, the 25-year-old chair of North Carolina’s Democratic Party. Clayton has a big-picture plan for 2024, and explains the granular changes needed to get out the vote on college campuses and in the rural communities of the Tar Heel State.