Dec 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Advocates see "opportunity" in abortion fight to galvanize Democratic voters

Planned Parenthood's Alexis McGill Johnson is seen speaking at an abortion rights rally in October.
Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson speaks during an abortion rights rally in October. Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March

Abortion rights advocates believe the Supreme Court fight over Mississippi's strict abortion bill has the potential to turn the political script: galvanize Democratic voters, instead of its historic ability to drive turnout among Republicans.

What they're saying: "The opportunity is that people are enraged," Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, told Axios in an interview. "What we saw in Texas, and what people will walk away from [the Mississippi oral arguments with], is a level of rage that we could be living in a world six months from now — where our children have fewer rights than we have right now."

  • That rage, McGill Johnson predicted, "is going to get channeled into accountability at the ballot box for those folks who have furthered the situation we're in right now."
  • She predicted that will occur not only in next November's midterms — which will be held about four months after the court's expected ruling in the Mississippi case — but starting in the state legislative season come January.
  • "You will see that rage in statehouses across the country all the way through 2022," said McGill Johnson.

What they're saying: The Planned Parenthood leadership isn't alone.

  • Amanda Brown Lierman, executive director of Supermajority, said: "What people are sort of reconciling is just the importance of abortion as a topic of conversation, as an issue that will mobilize people going into what's going to be such a hard election year."
  • Julie Downey, vice president of strategic communications at American Bridge 21st Century, labeled abortion a "wild card" issue that's the subject of planning conversations among Democratic candidates and operatives plotting 2022 strategy.
  • "We didn't want to put together an entire plan for the cycle based on economic messaging if it's going to all get blown up in June, and the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, or something like that," Downey told Axios.

Between the lines: Abortion is typically an issue Republicans have used to energize their base in presidential and statewide elections, particularly in red and purple states.

  • The recent spate of anti-abortion laws introduced, passed and headed toward the Supreme Court — and the high court's new conservative majority — is changing the political dynamics for Democrats in what was already expected to be a challenging cycle.
  • Three outside Democratic groups — Planned Parenthood, American Bridge and EMILY’s List — have teamed up to conduct research about abortion messaging and share that with the party.

By the numbers: ALG Research and Hart Research Associates tested abortion messaging in late September and early October for the Democratic groups. 

  • Among more than 1,500 registered Democratic and so-called ambivalent voters in states with Senate and/or gubernatorial elections next year, 80% said they were more likely to vote for a party candidate who favors leaving abortion decisions up to those having the abortion and their doctors.
  • That compares to only 9% who were more likely to support a Republican candidate who supports making abortion illegal.
  • That 71-point percentage gap is wider than other key issues that voters were surveyed about, including gun rights, climate change and vaccine mandates.

The big picture: Democrats are looking at state legislatures and state executives, like governors, in particular for how to protect abortion rights beyond the 2022 midterm elections.

  • "I think it's an opportunity for us to remember the importance of having a government that represents us, needing good people in positions of power at all levels, and defending key people, like [Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, who have power at the state level," Lierman said.
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