(RNS) — Whichever party the midterm election ends up putting in charge of the U.S. Senate and House, the failure of a widely predicted red wave to overwhelm Democrats was thanks in no small measure to abortion.
The exit poll, which samples the early and mail-in as well as the same-day congressional vote, found that abortion was the most important issue for fully 27% of all voters — close to the 31% who made inflation issue No. 1. Among that 27%, more than three-quarters voted for Democrats, compared with 71% of the inflation-firsters who voted Republican, resulting in almost equal numbers of those issue voters on each side. No other issue — including crime, gun policy and immigration — broke 11%.
And consider this. On the five issues where the poll asked voters which party they trusted more to handle, the GOP came out ahead on four: foreign policy (51%-45%), crime (52%-43%), inflation (54%-42%) and immigration (51%-45%). Only on abortion did they trust the Democrats more, 53%-44%.
Yes, after August’s striking pro-choice referendum result in Kansas, Republican candidates did what they could to downplay their interest in legislating abortion restrictions. But what the Democrats had going for them was the slew of state anti-abortion laws that passed after the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which they cleverly characterized as intrusive government dictates.
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Indeed, the exit poll found 61% of voters who said they were angry (39%) or “dissatisfied but not angry” (21%) with the court’s decision, as opposed to 37% who said they were enthusiastic (16%) or “satisfied but not enthusiastic” (21%).
That differential was on display in the five states where abortion was on the ballot: The pro-choice side prevailed not only in deep-blue California and Vermont, but also in purple Michigan, red Montana and, it appears, in deep-red Kentucky too.
White evangelicals are far more anti-abortion than all other major groupings, yet even in states like Kansas and Kentucky where they are thick on the ground, they end up on the losing side.
I’m guessing that, even as we speak, GOP pols are planning a legislative retreat on this most potent of Democratic wedge issues.