Economy 03-04-2024 01:02 6 Views

Could abortion rights ballot measures tip Florida or other states?

The Florida Supreme Court on Monday did much the same thing the U.S. Supreme Court did two years ago in overturning Roe v. Wade: It gave Republicans a significant policy win on abortion, while giving Democrats a significant political opportunity.

The court affirmed Florida Republicans’ 15-week abortion ban — and by extension their six-week ban, too — while greenlighting an abortion rights ballot measure for November.

That effectively means Floridians faced with one of the country’s strictest abortion bans will be asked whether to veto it — and enshrine the right to abortion in the state’s constitution. If the results of other recent abortion rights ballot measures in red states are any indication, the verdict is unlikely to be favorable for the GOP.

This has understandably led to some Democratic optimism that the measure could spur Democratic voting and even put the red-trending former swing state in play in the presidential race. Democrats also hope for such help in several other states where abortion rights could be on the ballot, including Arizona and Nevada. Even aside from the presidential race, they hope these measures can help in key Senate and House races in as many as a dozen states.

As for whether it actually will help?

The historical evidence — particularly when it comes to a similar GOP push to put same-sex marriage bans on the ballot in 2004 — is mixed. Some studies suggest that the 2004 effort had basically no impact, while others point to small impacts on the margins.

Still, small margins can matter. And the abortion rights push carries some different and largely untested dynamics.

Many pundits after the 2004 election wagered that the same-sex marriage bans made the difference in the country reelecting George W. Bush. The GOP got such measures on 11 states’ ballots, and those measures got an average of about 70 percent of the vote. One of the 11 states was Ohio, where Bush won by just two points. Without Ohio, Bush would have lost the presidential race.

Given how vital and close Ohio was, many scholars have studied whether the same-sex marriage bans tipped the scales toward Bush. Among their findings:

The measures do not appear to have juiced turnout, according to multiple studies. While turnout increased slightly more compared with the 2000 election in states with the ballot measures than in those without, political scientist Alan Abramowitz noted, that appears to have been because of how competitive they were, rather than the measures themselves.Bush actually gained slightly more on his 2000 vote shares in states without the ballot measures than he did in states with them, Abramowitz also noted.That said, there were some suggestions that this might have mattered somewhat in Ohio, specifically. A Pew Research Center study noted that the Bush campaign played up the issue in Black and evangelical churches there. Ohio exit polls showed Bush’s share of the Black vote increased from his share in 2000 by seven points (compared with two points nationally), and his share of votes among those attending church more than once a week increased by 17 points (compared with one point nationally).A separate study found that Bush did better than he’d have been expected to do in heavily conservative and evangelical counties in Ohio, but not in Michigan, which also had a same-sex marriage ban on the ballot.

Again, that study’s authors pointed to Ohio’s having potentially been an exception because of how much the Bush campaign pressed the issue. “Perhaps this outcome was due to the fact that Bush did not campaign on the issue in Michigan nearly as much as he did in Ohio,” they noted.

If you’re a Democrat and you look at these data, perhaps you see an avenue for using an abortion rights ballot measure to flip some votes — if not necessarily affect turnout — if you can really drive the issue home.

Which brings us to the different dynamic the abortion issue brings. Not all ballot initiatives are electorally equal, and just because one had a muted or even no impact on other races doesn’t mean another will.

Banning same-sex marriage was even more of a consensus issue back then than codifying abortion rights is now. But back then, it was about banning something that wasn’t even legal in those (red) states or the vast majority of the country. Voters weren’t actually reversing something, and the perceived threat wasn’t as immediate.

The situation in Florida is different, as it could be in other states. The ballot measures mean voters will go to the polls with a distinct reminder of what Republicans, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, have done very recently with abortion rights. And few things can be as politically potent as the perception that politicians are taking away your rights.

At the very least, Florida’s coming choice could press Republicans to take positions on issues they have sought to keep at arm’s length. DeSantis treated his signing of the six-week abortion ban gently when he was running for president, and other candidates struggled mightily to say what restrictions they actually supported. Similarly, Donald Trump criticized DeSantis for the ban and is taking a remarkably hands-off approach to the impending Florida ballot measure.

“It’s not necessarily a death knell for Republicans, but it is a net negative,” political consultant and Republican former Arizona state legislator Stan Barnes told Politico this year. “The ballot measure drives the point and it compels candidates to take a position, and that can be a difficult thing to do for a pro-life candidate because most people want some sort of legal abortion right.”

That gets at the likeliest impact here.

It’s not so much that it will drive up Democratic turnout in a presidential race that already features high turnout; it’s that it keeps an abortion issue that has proved potent for Democrats on the minds of voters more than two years after Roe was overturned.

For Republican candidates, that could be problematic. In key races in 2022, many of them were haunted by going too far in advocating for abortion restrictions.

Perhaps crucially, the Florida measure could serve as a motivator in a Democratic Party in which President Biden is struggling to get voters excited about his candidacy. It would seem unlikely to tip the presidential race in red-trending Florida, which went for Trump by three points in 2020 and for DeSantis by 19 in 2022, but Florida has multiple important contests down ballot. They include a key Senate race — and Sen. Rick Scott (R) has won his last three statewide campaigns by one point or less.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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