October 3, 2022

There was every reason to expect close elections.

Instead, Tuesday’s resounding victory for abortion rights advocates in Kansas offered some of the most concrete evidence yet that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has changed the political landscape. The victory, by a 59-41 margin in a Republican stronghold, suggests that Democrats will be the energized party on an issue where Republicans have typically had an enthusiasm advantage.

The Kansas vote suggests that about 65 percent of voters nationally would reject a similar initiative to repeal abortion rights, including in more than 40 of the 50 states (a few states on either side are very close to 50-50 ). This is a rough estimate, based on how demographic characteristics predicted the results of recent abortion referendums. But it’s an evidence-based way to reach a fairly obvious conclusion: If abortion rights get 59% support in Kansas, they’re doing even better than that nationally.

It’s a tally consistent with recent national surveys that showed greater support for legal abortion after the court’s decision. And the high turnout, especially among Democrats, confirms that abortion is not just an important issue for political activists. The stakes of abortion politics have become high enough that it may itself lead to a similar high participation rate in the midterms.

None of this proves the issue will help Democrats in the midterms. And there are limits to what can be extracted from the Kansas data. But the lopsided margin makes one thing clear: The political winds are now at the backs of abortion rights advocates.

There weren’t many public polls before the Kansas election, but the best available data suggested voters would likely be fairly evenly split on abortion.

In a Times compilation of national polling published this spring, 48 percent of Kansas voters said they thought abortion should be mostly legal compared to 47 percent who thought it should be mostly illegal. Likewise, the Cooperative Election Study in 2020 found that the state Registered voters were evenly split on whether abortion should be legal.

The results of similar recent referendums in Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia also showed a close race in Kansas — perhaps even a vote in which a “no” vote to preserve abortion rights would have the upper hand.

As with the Kansas vote, a “yes” vote on each of these four states’ initiatives would prevent a state constitution from protecting abortion rights or requiring abortion resources. Unlike Kansas, the initiatives passed in all four states, including a 24-point victory in Louisiana in 2020. But support for abortion rights exceeded support for Democratic presidential candidates in relatively white districts in all four states, especially in less religious areas outside the Deep South.

It’s a pattern that suggests abortion rights would have far more support than Joe Biden would have as a candidate in a relatively white state like Kansas — perhaps even enough to favor abortion rights to survive.

It may seem strange that abortion advocates would even have a chance in Kansas, given the state’s long tradition of voting Republican. But Kansas is more reliably Republican than conservative. The state has an above-average number of college graduates, a group that has swung Democratic in recent years.

Kansas voted for Donald J. Trump by about 15 percentage points in 2020, enough to carry pretty safe republican. For Democrats, however, it is not entirely out of the question. Republicans have learned this the hard way. look no further than the 2018 Democratic victory in the governor’s race.

Even so, a landslide victory for abortion rights in Kansas did not appear to be a likely outcome, either based on polls or recent initiatives. The most likely explanations for the surprise: Voters may be more supportive of abortion rights after Roe is overturned (as national polls suggest). they may be more cautious about eliminating abortion rights now that there are real political consequences to these initiatives. Abortion rights supporters may have more energy to go to the polls.

Abortion rights advocates may not always find it so easy to advance their cause. They were defending the status quo in Kansas. elsewhere, they will try to overturn abortion bans.

Whatever the explanation, if abortion advocates could do as well as they did in Kansas, they would have a good chance of defending abortion rights almost anywhere in the country. The state may not be as conservative as Alabama, but it’s far more conservative than the nation as a whole — and the result wasn’t Shut up. There are only seven states — in the Deep South and the Mountain West — where abortion rights advocates are expected to fail a hypothetically similar initiative.

If there’s one rule about partisanship in American politics, it’s that registered Republicans turn out at higher rates than registered Democrats.

While the Kansas data is still preliminary, it appears that registered Democrats were more likely to vote than registered Republicans.

A total of 276,000 voters participated in the Democratic primary, which was also held Tuesday, compared to 451,000 who cast ballots in the Republican primary. The Democratic tally was 56 percent of the number of registered Democrats in the state, while the number of Republican primary voters was 53 percent of the number of registered Republicans. (Unaffiliated voters are the second largest group in Kansas.)

In Johnson County, outside Kansas City, 67 percent of registered Democrats turned outcompared to 60 percent of registered Republicans.

This is a rare achievement for Democrats in a high-turnout election. In nearby Iowa, where historical turnout data is readily available, registered Democratic turnout in a general election has never eclipsed registered Republican turnout in at least 40 years.

The higher Democratic turnout explains why the result was less favorable to abortion opponents than expected. And it confirms that Democrats are now much more proactive on the abortion issue, reversing a pattern from recent elections. It may even raise Democrats’ hopes that they could defy the president’s party’s long-standing trend of low turnout in midterm elections.

For Republicans, turnout may offer a modest advantage. They might reasonably hope that turnout will be more favorable in the November midterms, when abortion won’t be the only issue on the ballot and Republicans will have many more reasons to vote — including control of Congress.

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