Democrats and pro-choice activists are giddy over the overwhelming pro-choice vote that came out of Kansas on Tuesday. They have every right to be, but a note of caution is in order as well.
The top of the line numbers were surprisingly good. A constitutional amendment that would have allowed the Kansas Legislature to ban abortion (and they most certainly would have done just that) went down in flames, 59% – 41%. What might be even more significant is the issue’s impact on turnout. The Secretary of State had predicted that 36% of eligible voters would show up, but it was closer to 50%.
I’m less surprised at the margin of defeat for the amendment than I am in the turnout figures. About two-thirds of Americans support at least some abortion rights, so that 59% isn’t really all that off the mark. But polling after Roe was overturned was suggesting that the issue was not driving voter enthusiasm, at least not for the pro-choice side.
A Marquette University Law School poll that was released in early July found that there was an 18 point enthusiasm gap favoring the GOP. In that national poll, 63% of Republicans said they were “very enthusiastic” about voting in November compared to only 45% of Democrats who said the same. And those numbers were almost identical to a poll taken in May, before Roe was overturned.
Even more striking, there was a 20 point enthusiasm gap favoring anti-abortion voters. Sixty-percent of those opposed to Roe said they were eager to vote in November compared to 40% of Roe supporters — and again that was after Roe was overturned.
So, in other words the Kansas turnout flies in the face of the Marquette poll results. How can an otherwise reliable poll be so far off the mark? Since that was a national poll, was there something unique about Kansas that might not translate to other states? Somehow, Democrats are going to have to square that up.
Then there’s the question of candidates versus referenda. The vote in Kansas was directly on the issue of abortion itself with no intervening issues getting in the way. But will Republican and independent pro-choice voters cast a ballot for a Democrat they hold responsible for inflation, crime, immigration problems and other issues? Trumpy candidates did well overall on Tuesday, suggesting that the party is still in his control. It’s hard to imagine a pro-choice Trump voter voting for a Democrat.
The Kansas results may encourage Democrats to double down on abortion as an issue for the fall. They may feel they don’t have much choice as Republicans have polling advantages on pretty much every other issue. Maybe that will work, but it’s far from certain.