It’s still too early to gauge the political impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to send the issue of abortion back to the states. That’s not to say that Democrats have prudently refrained from speculating.
Almost from the moment when a draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization hit the presses, journalistic institutions anticipated that overturning the precedents in Roe and Casey would “jolt,” “rewire,” and “upend” the political dynamics that presently favor the GOP. After that decision was released, a handful of polls testing the public’s preference for which party they’d like to see in control of Congress in 2023 shifted in the Democrats’ direction, prompting a bout of triumphalism in left-leaning media. As one Democratic strategist told U.S. News, the Court’s decision will motivate young and Hispanic voters in ways unified Democratic governance has so far not. “At the end of the day, we believe the disappointment in Joe Biden is going to be the least powerful force in this election,” he insisted.
That may be wishful thinking. Crime, inflation, and general economic precarity remain most voters’ primary political concerns. What’s more, the issue of abortion is complicated. Voters have mixed, confusing, and sometimes even contradictory views on the matter. Flattening abortion rights into a binary issue that benefits one political party at the expense of the other is a flawed outlook. Indeed, there are now early indications to suggest that the hopes Democrats placed on the issue of abortion will soon turn to ashes in their mouths.
For example, polling has long shown that a substantial majority of voters did not want to see Roe overturned. Given the public’s general preference for some restrictions on elective abortions, usually after the first trimester, political analysts have interpreted this to mean that most voters want to see some national standard on abortion rights; something that harmonizes state laws to preclude an outright ban on the practice. According to a recent Monmouth poll, however, that’s not strictly true.
That survey found that only 46 percent of U.S. adults want to see Congress attempt to create that kind of national standard around abortion. Forty-four percent of Americans want to leave the matter up to the states. This statistically negligible split on the issue is “basically unchanged from May,” Monmouth notes. And while close to six-in-ten Americans would be “bothered a lot” if elective abortion were banned at the national level, only 46 percent say the same for state-level bans on the practice.
A majority of voters say the Court’s decisions will not “personally impact” their lives, which is roughly unchanged from May. That helps explain why progressives who insist that this is the moment to “discipline” the Court over its reckless jurisprudence haven’t found their audience. Only 38 percent of respondents back “expanding the Supreme Court” to blunt the influence of its conservative justices—results that are also “largely unchanged from September 2021.”
Meanwhile, Democrats were treated yesterday to the first real-world test of whether the Supreme Court’s decision had enlivened their previously unenthusiastic voting base. The results were ambiguous.
Voters turned out to cast their ballots in primary races in Illinois, New York, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Utah on Tuesday and, as of that evening, turnout “appeared to be typically sluggish” according to the New York Times. All the caveats apply: These states all have early-voting provisions, so many votes had already been cast by primary day, and there were fewer contested primaries on the Democratic side than the GOP’s. That said, however, “unaffiliated voters had returned more early ballots in Republican primaries than Democratic ones, a reversal from 2020 and 2018, election officials said.”
We cannot yet say that Dobbs won’t deliver Democrats from a drubbing at the polls in November. But there’s little indication of that yet. In fact, from what we have seen so far, the Court’s ruling might even be an electoral non-event. If future polls and primary results subsequently confirm that impression—if the overturning of Roe cannot salvage Democratic fortunes—this cake is well and truly baked.