Jun 9, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Swing states to test Biden's abortion-rights push

Map of states where abortion is or might be on the ballot in 2024. Abortion will be on the ballot in Florida, Maryland, South Dakota,  and  New York and may be on the ballot in eight other states.
Data: Axios research; Chart: Axios Visuals

Democrats hope the backlash to the recent blitz of state abortion restrictions will continue to give them a boost in November. But the bigger question is how much it will help President Biden in the battleground states likely to decide the election.

Why it matters: Since the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade in 2022, Democrats consistently have won midterm and state elections in which abortion has been on the ballot.

  • Now the potency of the issue will be tested in a presidential election, in which many voters appear to be focused more on the economy and immigration.
  • "The challenge for the Biden campaign is that even though you've had large support for abortion rights on the ballot ... that doesn't necessarily mean those same voters are going to be willing to vote for Joe Biden," Melissa Deckman, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, told Axios.

Driving the news: Polls show that most Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. That's aligned with Biden's position and is why abortion is one of former President Trump's biggest vulnerabilities.

  • But polls also show abortion isn't among most Americans' top concerns: 36% say the economy is the country's most important problem, followed by "poor leadership" and immigration, according to Gallup.
  • Just 4% say abortion is the country's most important problem.
  • "Democrats are on the right side of public opinion [on abortion] largely speaking, but the risk we sometimes run is creating an impression that it is the one and only issue," said John LaBombard, a communications strategist for red-state Democratic senators.

Polls in the six swing states likely to decide the presidency have suggested that protecting abortion rights is particularly significant to those voters — potentially a good sign for Biden.

  • A poll by the New York Times, Siena College and the Philadelphia Inquirer last month indicated that 11% of the voters in six battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — said abortion was the most important issue in the election.
  • That was nearly the same percentage who said immigration was what they care most about.

Zoom in: Arizona and Nevada — states Biden won in 2020 — are among the dozen states that will or could have questions on their Nov. 5 ballots about expanding or guaranteeing access to abortion.

  • Such ballot measures repeatedly have prevailed in the post-Roe era, even in red states.
  • If the measures get on the ballots in Arizona and Nevada, they'd give Biden a chance to capitalize on voter enthusiasm surrounding abortion, particularly among women.

But they wouldn't necessarily be silver bullets for Biden.

  • A recent CBS News poll said 65% of Arizona voters support the proposed measure there that would allow abortions up to the point of fetal viability — typically around 24 weeks of pregnancy.
  • That hasn't translated to similar support for Biden, who trailed Trump by five points in that Arizona poll.

About half the Arizona poll's respondents said abortion would be a "major factor" in their vote, but significantly more said the economy and inflation would be big factors.

  • "Voters are very capable and very willing to show up and vote for what they believe in terms of a ballot measure ... and then turn around and vote for a candidate on the same ballot who does not share those values," LaBombard said.
  • One plus for Biden: He's been ticking upward just a bit in overall swing-state polls taken since Trump's felony conviction.

An abortion measure on the ballot in Nevada could give the president a boost in the state where polling has shown him trailing Trump by double digits among registered voters.

  • Nevada's proposed measure would enshrine into the state's constitution the right to an abortion until the point of fetal viability.

Between the lines: Biden's campaign is touting the president's support for reproductive rights while hitting Trump on the economy and immigration, as well as casting him as a threat to democracy.

  • "President Biden is criss–crossing the country talking to voters about the issues that matter to them: stopping Donald Trump from further ripping away women's freedoms, defending our democracy and growing our economy," Biden-Harris senior spokesperson Sarafina Chitika said in a statement.

Trump, meanwhile, has bragged about appointing the three conservative Supreme Court justices who helped overturn Roe, but otherwise has said simply that abortion regulations should be left to the states.

  • He's been more focused on bashing Biden over the economy and immigration.
  • Conservatives loyal to Trump, however, are working up ways to impose new restrictions if he wins in November. Some tout their support for in vitro fertilization (IVF) to show they favor protecting some reproductive rights.

Go deeper: New Biden ad blames Trump as Texas woman says she nearly died after abortion ban

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