This article is part of HuffPost’s biweekly political newsletter. Click here to register.
It has been almost six weeks since the Supreme Court removed the right to abortion in America and at that time there were multiple signs of backlash.
ONE increase in grassroots activism by the abortion rights. One sharp drop in small donations to Republicans;. ONE slew of polls showing that the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was extremely unpopular.
But these were just hints. There was no way of knowing whether the decision would affect the election results – until Tuesday, when Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected an anti-abortion measure.
The proposal would amend the Kansas constitution, paving the way for Democratic legislators to enact sweeping, possibly total bans on abortion. He failed by 18 points.
Or, to put it another way, nearly 6 in 10 Kansans just voted to legalize abortion—which, as HuffPost’s Alanna Vaianos she explained in her dispatch from Wichita, it matters far beyond state lines.
“Since Roe came down, more than a dozen states in the South and Midwest have already severely restricted or banned abortion, making Kansas an unexpected haven for abortion care. Texas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Missouri, and Arkansas all have total abortion bans in place. Other states, including North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Iowa, are in court challenging the strict restrictions or waiting for bans to take effect. Put all those states together and you have most of the Midwest and much of the South.”
But what about the political implications? How much optimism can abortion rights advocates take from Kansas? What would it take to get similar results in other states and nationally?
The attendance numbers are staggering
Probably the most encouraging sign for abortion rights advocates is the turnout numbers. About 910,000 residents voted, that is more than double the participation rate of the last two qualifiers and is approaching presidential election levels.
One particularly telling statistic is the turnout of “unaffiliated” voters — that is, Kansans who didn’t register with one party or another, meaning they couldn’t even vote in the Senate, gubernatorial and other races. USA.
“This was done deliberately to make sure people wouldn’t vote and I think the opposite happened.”
– Ethan Winter, Data for Progress
In recent primaries, only a few thousand absentee voters cast ballots. This time, more than 150,000 did, according to one of his tables Daniel Donnereditor at DailyKos elections.
The numbers are particularly notable given that supporters of the amendment chose the August primary contest, rather than the November general election, because primaries typically turn out to be lower, with higher Republican turnout.
“That was done deliberately to make sure people wouldn’t vote and I think the opposite happened.” Ethan Wintersenior analyst at Progress data who conducted field polls for the Kansas referendum, told HuffPost. “This was a commanding victory.”
One more data point seems relevant.
It’s about who registered to vote in Kansas after June 24, the date the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs decision. Democrats held an 8-point advantage during that time, TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonnier he noted on Twitter, even though GOP registrations outnumbered Democrats statewide by 12 points. And 70% of new registrants were women.
This last part is especially interesting given some recent history. Donald Trump’s presidency has galvanized women voters, many of whom had previously disengaged from politics. It’s a big reason Republicans lost control of Congress in 2018 and lost the presidency in 2020.
It is not so hard to imagine something similar happening now, as the Dobbs decision makes a real threat to women’s rights that previously was, or seemed to many, purely hypothetical.
Kansas politics matter, too
That said, some of the political conditions in Kansas worked against the amendment in ways that might not work against similar measures in other conservative states — or against candidates who oppose abortion rights in those states.
First, ballot initiatives can lead to “status quo bias.” Voters are naturally suspicious of change, and there is actually a track record of abortion restrictions failing at the ballot box, even when polls suggest the public is on board. (Jonathan Robinsondirector of research at Catalystwrote about this phenomenon here.)
And even though Kansas is a red state in a red part of the country, it’s not as conservative as it might seem. Its cathedral governor is a Democrat and public opinion on abortion is evenly divided, according to Pew Research.
“The central plains states are less socially conservative than their reputations,” he said Natalie Jacksondirector of investigations at PRRI (and formerly of HuffPost senior poll editor). “Kansas is not Oklahoma. Kansas is not Texas. … Kansas is not the Deep South.”
Another caveat is that Republican voters who would reject abortion bans in an up-or-down vote would not necessarily reject candidates who support such bans — in Kansas or anywhere else.
“These Republicans are more likely to vote for a pro-life Republican than a pro-choice Democrat simply because they’re not voting on just one issue,” Jackson said. “They vote on a bunch of issues, and unless abortion is their only primary motivation, they’re still going to vote for that Republican or that Democrat.”
A lot depends on the framing in November
That said, Democrats trying to win the election can succeed by winning over even a small number of Republican voters — or boosting turnout among Democrats and independents who prioritize abortion rights.
“The strategy for a candidate in a swing district, for a Democrat, is absolutely to have abortion on their mind — keep beating that drum, that Republicans are going to act to solve this immediately,” Jackson said. “It might not necessarily shift the vote, but it might have a significant impact on turnout … if you’re a Democrat, you’re leaving a lot to be desired if you don’t push for abortion.”
It’s also possible that Dobbs has changed the usual dynamic of midterm elections, in which a new president with a majority in Congress tries to push an ambitious agenda — and then gets rebuked because the public is worried about so much change.
“I’ve always described the in-between effect as a sort of balancing act,” Winter said. “But with Dobbs, it’s the Republicans who are pushing the biggest upheavals in the status quo.”
Winter said the effects could be particularly stark in states where Democratic governors or gubernatorial candidates can argue that their allies in the legislature are also the ones blocking new abortion restrictions or bans that Republicans would put in place.
“Kansas is not Oklahoma. Kansas is not Texas. … Kansas is not the Deep South.”
– Natalie Jackson, PRRI
A state where this can it’s already happening in Michiganwhere Tudor Dixon on Tuesday won the qualifiers to challenge the incumbent Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer. Dixon said she supports a 1931 abortion law that is still on the books and would oppose the creation of exceptions for rape or incest.
Whitmer has been warning for months about the threat to abortion rights. She and the Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel have vowed not to implement the 1931 Act, while they asked MichiganThe Supreme Court to declare the ban inconsistent with the state’s constitutional guarantees of individual rights.
Whitmer, Nessel and fellow statewide Democrats are also supporting a ballot measure that would enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution once and for all. It’s on the ballot because organizers submitted more than 750,000 signatures, which was both a record and nearly double what the measure needed to qualify. (Several other states also have such measures on their November ballots.)
After Tudor won the nomination Tuesday, Whitmer wasted no time making abortion rights an issue. ONE fundraising email that went out at 10:30 p.m called Dixon a “dangerous candidate” and backed it up with quotes from Dixon on abortion. All signs point to more attacks like this – on the log, on social media and on the airwaves.
Not all Democrats running in November will be able to make abortion such a big issue in their campaigns. But if Kansas shows anything, it’s that Democrats should try — and that, if they succeed, they can preserve abortion access for millions.