Friday, December 9, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fall of Roe could sway some swing voters to Democrats in November

Experts in Arizona, Michigan and Texas think the reversal of what was considered settled law could fuel conservative-leaning women and others towards more liberal candidates, but it's too soon to say.

(CN) — Democrats face overwhelming odds heading into the November midterm elections. Inflation, compounded by rising gas and housing prices and low approval ratings plaguing Democratic legislators, suggest a comfortable path for Republicans to take back the U.S. House and win down the ballot. The GOP simply need not slip up.

That was before Friday, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal right to abortion, overruling its landmark Roe v. Wade precedent in a 6-3 split.

The decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization now leaves it in the hands of the states to decide the legality of the medical procedure.

Abortion rights receive broad national support across the American electorate. In two polls from May, Gallup found that 85% believe abortion should be legal in all or some circumstances, with the Pew Research Center reporting 61%.

Experts in Arizona, Michigan and Texas are scratching their heads at the potential ramifications of the decision. The reversal of what was considered settled law could fuel conservative-leaning women towards more liberal candidates.

Valerie Hoekstra, a political science professor at Arizona State University and author of “Public Reaction to Supreme Court Decisions,” suggests the landmark ruling, largely made possible by three appointees of President Donald Trump, could disillusion voters.

“I think that the group that might be most vulnerable to thinking about this would be Republican women,” she said. “When Trump was the head of the party … they were so ambivalent. He appointed the justices that made this into a majority to overturn it — there could be some [heightened] ambivalence to see.”

According to a recent survey by OH Predictive Insights, 87% of registered voters in Arizona believe that abortion should be legal in some way. Only 13% of voters wanted abortion banned outright.

Additionally, 60% of those polled said a candidate’s stance on abortion would be very or somewhat impactful on their decision to vote for them or not.

“Democrats are staring down a tough political environment, and the recent ruling could be the much-needed jolt to get their base motivated to get out and vote in these all-important midterm elections,” said Mike Noble, chief of research at OH Predictive Insights.

Arizona House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, a Democrat from Phoenix, said the party has an opportunity to seize power from the Republicans, who control the governor's office and the state's House and Senate.

“I think it’s extremely important right now that Arizona voters know that we don’t have to sit back idly and let this decision affect our families,” he said. “There’s opportunities for us to challenge the 15-week abortion ban through a ballot initiative. And there’s an opportunity for us to … elect statewide office leaders and federal leaders that are going to stand with us here in Arizona and in D.C. to make sure that people have the protections they need.”

Almost all of Arizona's abortion clinics paused their services Friday, citing confusion over its legality in the state.

Arizona currently has two abortion laws on the books. One, a pre-Roe ban, bars the procedure, while a recent law bans abortion after 15 weeks, except in the cases where it would save the mother's life. The latter does not go into effect for 90 days.

Protesters rally in front of the Arizona Senate building in Phoenix, June 24, 2022. (Michael McDaniel/Courthouse News)

Richard D. Friedman, a law professor at the University of Michigan, surmised this might be a moment where the tide could turn.

“I think for many years Republicans have benefited from a large number of voters who have been motivated principally by this issue. There are more pro-choice than anti-abortion voters, but the pro-choice voters tended not to be as motivated because Roe and Casey seemed to be doing the job,” he wrote in an email.


“I think a significant number of voters will be motivated to make that the decisive issue. In some close elections that will make the difference.”

In Michigan, abortion hinges on a temporary injunction that has, for now, stopped the enforcement of a 1931 law criminalizing the procedure.

Anna Kirkland, a women's studies professor at the University of Michigan, suggested a younger contingent of conservative women voters could shift to the left.

“There are large portions of the Republican electorate who say they support abortion rights to some extent and didn't want to see Roe overturned,” she wrote in an email.

“Those voters are much more likely to be women, especially younger women. There are a few states like Virginia and perhaps here in Michigan where that could make a difference. But many states are already so conservative that it may not matter in those.”

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, filed a motion on Friday urging the Michigan Supreme Court to immediately consider her April lawsuit asking the court to decide if Michigan’s Constitution protects the right to abortion.

“We need to clarify that under Michigan law, access to abortion is not only legal, but constitutionally protected. The urgency of the moment is clear—the Michigan court must act now,” she said in a statement.

In Texas, women often play a key role in close elections.

“Texas is a purple state and opinion is fairly split on abortion issues,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Democrats can build a coalition of Republican-leaning women, college-educated voters, some suburban voters and moderates who support abortion rights in total or in part.”

According to Rottinghaus, Republican women in the suburbs of the Lone Star State are driven largely by two issues.

“The first is economic: anything that touches pocketbooks is going to be something that motivates suburban Republican women in particular," Rottinghaus said. "The other is a fear of the loss of rights.”

In April, before a leaked draft opinion previewed the Supreme Court’s intention to eliminate the federal right to abortion, Texans largely opposed making the procedure illegal. A University of Texas poll found that 48% of Texas women opposed banning all abortions in the state. Similarly, a February poll found that 45% of Texas women believe abortion laws should be less strict.  

While Republican women, especially those who reside in the suburbs, tend to support expanded abortion access, inflation and high gas prices could split their votes, Rottinghaus said.

“These are cross-cutting issues, you have the economic issue making it harder for Democrats to win, but you also have the issue of abortion, which for a lot of women is fundamental and they may support Democrats over Republicans on that,” he said.

Protesters marched June 24, 2022 from a federal courthouse to the Texas Capitol, many holding signs showing support for abortion rights and bodily autonomy. (Kirk McDaniel/ Courthouse News)

Some remain to be convinced that the court's decision will be a watershed moment for the Democratic party.

Ryan C. Black, a political science professor at Michigan State University, thinks it's too soon to say.

“It’s an empirical question and one we don’t really know the answer to at present. My hunch is that it’s not enough to result in a meaningful uptick in support for Democrats,” he said in an email.

“Lots of voters maintain attitudes that are at odds with what their preferred elected officials support. The key question is whether the strength of pro-choice attitudes for these Republican women is enough to cause them to be willing to embrace the baggage that would come with voting for a candidate who is, on many other issues, opposed to the voters' preferences.”

Mark Jones, a political science professor and fellow at Rice University, said that it's unlikely that the overturning of Roe will impact the tide of statewide elections.

“This is the type of issue that may cost Republicans a couple of percentage points, but likely no more than that,” Jones said.

At most, Jones believes, the ruling might help boost Democrats' performance in November, compensating for the low approval rating for President Joe Biden's administration and ongoing inflation anxieties.

As for how much the Supreme Court’s decision will affect the overall state of Texas politics, Jones pointed out that the state has already been through a similar test.

“We went from abortions from being legal through 20 weeks to abortion being legal only through six weeks of pregnancy and nothing changed,” Jones said. “We did not see any change in the polls, we did not see much in the way of real protest … it is not clear to me there is going to be that much of an impact right now.”   

If there is an indication that voters in these states are seeking out pro-abortion candidates, it may come in August when Arizona and Michigan both hold their primaries.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.