Suffolk University on Thursday released an Ohio poll for USA Today that finds a strong 59-26 majority of likely voters saying they'll oppose Issue 1, a Republican-backed constitutional amendment that would require 60% voter approval to pass future amendments and a more burdensome number of voter signatures to put them on the ballot. This is the very first survey that anyone has publicized of the Aug. 8 special election, a contest Republicans instigated in order to make it more difficult for pro-choice advocates to pass their own amendment this November to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution.
We always caution that you should never let one poll determine your outlook of a race―even when there is literally just one poll―and that's especially true when it comes to referendums like this one. These sorts of contests can be challenging to survey in part because, unlike most general elections, voters can't simply rely on candidates' party labels to help them decide.
Pollsters instead need to quickly summarize the referendum's question for voters, who may not always fully understand the choice in front of them, and respondents may respond differently based on how the question is worded. This race presents an additional complication since no one's sure what turnout will look like: As the head of the Ohio League of Women Voters, which opposes Issue 1, recently said, "[I]n the 200-year history of our state, the state legislature never has put an issue of such great importance on an August special election."
However, there are already signs that considerably more people will show up than Republicans expected or hoped. Cleveland.com's Andrew J. Tobias reports that about 66,300 people cast ballots during the first week of early voting, which is more than ten times the amount who cast ballots at this point in the August 2022 primary.
That may come as a surprise to GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who said earlier this month that he "wouldn't be surprised" if turnout was "similar to" the 8% of registered voters who showed up last August. (LaRose, a U.S. Senate candidate who is one of Issue 1's most fervent supporters, backed a successful effort just months ago to end regular August elections. He argued that they "generate chronically low turnout," which he deemed "bad news for the civil health of our state," though he insisted Issue 1 should take place over the summer anyway.)
The amendment's detractors have argued that this is exactly what conservatives want, with the group One Person One Vote airing an ad depicting an empty polling place as the narrator warns that special interests are "trying to sneak something through, hoping you won't vote." The campaign has also run a commercial featuring a clip of LaRose agreeing the Issue 1 fight is "about abortion," as well as a spot where a pair of scissors slice the state constitution apart.
Conservatives, meanwhile, began their own TV ad campaign last week just after this poll, which was in the field July 9 to 12, was finished. Protect Women Ohio used its inaugural spot to encourage a yes vote by warning, "Out-of-state special interests that put trans ideology in classrooms and encourage sex changes for kids are hiding behind slick ads." Neither Issue 1 nor the abortion amendment has anything to do with any of these issues, but the group is very much betting that transphobia will give them the lift they need.
One Person One Vote's message, though, is still the one that's getting far more exposure. Tobias reports that the group has spent $4.5 million on ads, including ones that have yet to run, compared to $1.9 million for Protect Women Ohio.