May 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Georgia swing voters: Abortion isn’t the central issue

Illustration of two ballots creating the shape of a medical cross
Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Georgia swing voters in the latest Axios Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups strongly support abortion rights — but say the issue alone probably won't decide who they support in November's midterm elections.

Why it matters: This could limit the effectiveness of the Democrats' plans to convert public opposition to the Supreme Court's expected overturning of Roe v. Wade into a strategy to save their congressional majorities.

Driving the news: The limits of abortion as a voting issue was a key takeaway from our two online focus group panels Tuesday night.

  • They included 13 Georgians, all from the greater Atlanta metro region, who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, then Joe Biden in 2020. Three identified as Democrats, six as Republicans and four as independents.
  • A focus group isn't a statistically significant sample like a poll. But the responses help show how voters in crucial states are thinking about key issues.

Details: All 13 participants said they supported keeping abortion legal. None said they would vote for Democrats in November as a "protest vote" based on the issue alone — though most said it would be one factor in their decisions.

  • Most participants indicated other issues ranked just as high on their priority list, including inflation, the economy, taxes, climate change and guns.

Between the lines: Abortion politics may be more effective in turning out some reliable Democratic base voters for whom abortion rights are a highly motivating factor — including younger voters, college-educated women and people of color — than in driving swing voters to the polls.

  • Billy C. of Atlanta, a Democrat, said that while he supports abortion rights, he considers the issue a "gray area" with legal and moral nuances.
  • He said he'd look "negatively toward any candidates who are using this as a political platform just to gain notoriety."
  • Kayla A. of Decatur said she's torn. Abortion rights are important to her, while on other issues, "I want to vote Republican, because I agree on most of the other things that they stand for."
  • "I may do like I did for this election, and vote for the Democrat because certain issues are just very important."

But, but, but: On the other hand, participants said Republicans can't solely count on their votes based on their frustration with inflation.

  • While none of the 13 places the entire blame for inflation on President Biden, a majority said he bears some responsibility.

What they're saying: “Conventional wisdom has narrowed the midterm debate to abortion vs. inflation, but what we heard from Georgia swing voters upends that construct,” said Rich Thau, president of Engagious, who moderated the focus groups.

  • "These voters all support Roe, but won’t knee-jerk vote for Democrats in November because of abortion; nor will they automatically vote for Republicans because of inflation.”

The big picture: These voters also were asked to weigh in on high-profile upcoming contests for U.S. Senate and Georgia governor and secretary of state.

  • Only one participant could recognize — by image — any of the primary opponents to GOP Senate front-runner Herschel Walker.
  • Only about half recognized Walker's photo, but when prompted, almost all said questions about Walker's past, including allegations of domestic violence, were "concerning" to them.
  • Most, though, said they wanted to do more research on his background.

Opinions of Gov. Brian Kemp had moved in a positive direction for a majority of the focus group participants since he took office, they said.

Several credited his refusal to give in to pressure from former President Trump to overturn Georgia's 2020 election results, though some said they found him "wishy-washy" or "trying to play both sides of the fence."

  • Kemp faces a primary challenge from David Perdue, a former senator who lost his 2021 re-election and falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen.
  • On the Democratic side, participants described gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams as "a go-getter," "driven" and a "fighter"— but also expressed questions about her motives and authenticity.

In the GOP primary for Georgia secretary of state, only four of the 13 could identify incumbent Brad Raffensperger by his photo.

  • Those who could had a positive opinion of his handling of election pressure brought by Trump.
  • None of the panelists recognized Raffensperger's opponent, Jody Hice, who's been endorsed by Trump.
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