Nothing to panic about here, but worth watching.
On June 24, Democrats stood at 41.3 percent in the RCP generic ballot average, their worst number since January. That left them 3.4 points behind Republicans, portending a GOP landslide in the fall if you know anything about the history of generic ballot polling.
The Dobbs decision was handed down that same day. Since then, Dems have gained 2.5 points in less than two weeks, closing the gap with Republicans to 1.3 points. Apart from one brief fluky stretch at the end of May, their 43.8 percent share today is their best showing of 2022.
Is the backlash upon us?
Notably, Biden’s numbers haven’t improved at all. The public’s shift towards Democrats lately isn’t being driven by any changing fortunes in the White House:
The flashiest shift in generic ballot polling came from YouGov, which had Republicans up five points in the days immediately after Dobbs and has Democrats up three points today. An eight-point swing! But it’s a mirage, says YouGov pollster G. Elliott Morris: A programming flaw had led YouGov to oversample Republicans in previous polls, overstating their advantage. It must be, then, that the RCP average pre-Dobbs that made things look so glum for Team Blue was also a bit biased towards Team Red.
Still, other pollsters have also seen a shift. For instance, in early May Monmouth found Republicans up seven on the generic ballot. A poll published last week that was taken after Dobbs found that advantage down to two points. Harvard-Harris saw the parties tied last week after detecting a two-point GOP advantage in May. Morning Consult watched a 42/42 race in mid-June turn into a 45/42 Democratic lead in the immediate aftermath of the SCOTUS decision. And GOP-friendly Rasmussen saw an eight-point Republican lead pre-Dobbs turn into a five-point Republican lead afterward.
My guess is that it’s a blip that will soon be smoothed out by short attention spans and the grinding reality of persistent inflation. But that depends in part on the deftness of Republican leaders in responding to concerns about new abortion regulations, and most Republican leaders aren’t known for being deft. Case in point:
Dana Bash: Will the state of South Dakota going forward force a 10-year-old in that very same situation to have a baby?
Kristi Noem: In South Dakota, the law today is that abortions are illegal except to save the life of the mother.
[that’s a yes] pic.twitter.com/QSZHGoy5TM
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 3, 2022
It *should* be easy for Kristi Noem to say that, physiologically, a 10-year-old will necessarily face a threat to her life from pregnancy and therefore would qualify for an abortion under South Dakota law. It wasn’t easy. It sounds like she’s prepared to see that child, who was clearly a victim of rape, carry to term. It’s an open question at the moment whether that 10-year-old actually exists or if she’s a cynical yet shrewd figment of some activist’s imagination, but if it’s the latter, it was a smart bit of propaganda by the left. The media is now using the case to test just how far Republicans will go to limit abortions. Pretty far, it turns out. If the generic ballot continues to shift towards Dems, it may have more to do with a backlash to comments like Noem’s than a backlash to the Dobbs ruling.
There may be more to come at the federal level next year if Republicans take the House, a fact Democrats will be keen to emphasize in this fall’s midterm advertising:
The Life at Conception Act, led by Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), would recognize rights from the “moment of fertilization.” The legislation has 163 GOP co-sponsors, and a discharge petition filed by Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) has 55 signatures, with 218 needed to force a vote on the bill.
The Heartbeat Protection Act, from Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), would ban abortion after cardiac activity can be detected in a fetus, usually around 6 weeks’ gestation.
In a letter to McCarthy and Scalise last week, the heads of Heritage Action for America, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, CatholicVote and several other organizations that oppose abortion called for a GOP House majority to call multiple votes on Kelly’s bill and other bills.
“Only federal law can protect unborn babies from states that will continue to allow and even subsidize abortion on demand up until birth. The House of Representatives is best positioned to lead with a robust pro-life agenda beginning now and accelerating in January should you retake the majority,” the letter said.
Kevin McCarthy will be tempted to push a bill that would ban abortion in the United States next year as a sop to pro-lifers, knowing that there’s no risk from passing it so long as a Democrat is in the White House. He should think carefully, though: If he’s willing to introduce that bill in 2023 when Biden is president, social conservatives will expect him to re-introduce it in 2025 if/when Republicans control all of government. That bill would be very unpopular nationally. What excuse will McCarthy make to avoid considering it if he agreed to consider it once before?
Pew did its own post-Dobbs poll and found that a solid majority disapprove of the ruling overturning Roe. Opposition cuts across most demographic groups, too:
There’s a skew in opinion between red states and blue states, of course, but not as sharp as you might expect. In states where abortion is still allowed, opinion on Dobbs splits 34/65. But in red states like Noem’s where abortion is now newly prohibited, the public still tilts towards disapproval, 46/52. In Texas, for instance, just 15 percent of residents say abortion should never be permitted while a mere 37 percent support the state’s “trigger law.”
All of that is due to the fact that Republicans are quietly more ambivalent about abortion than Democrats are. The left is fanatic about it, with 84 percent telling Pew that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. On the right, 38 percent agree. Legal abortion is a seven-to-one issue among Democrats, in other words, and less than a two-to-one issue among Republicans the other way. Which pretty succinctly explains the generic ballot shift lately.