In the weeks following the Dobbs decision, national polls showed that a significant swath of registered voters are united over abortion rights as a priority. But perhaps most vitally, recent research makes it clear that the Roe reversal has brought to the fore a potential coalition of abortion rights supporters that, if successfully leveraged, could prove a powerful challenge to the anti-abortion movement.
A New York Times/Sienna College poll conducted after the decision found that for 61 percent of registered voters, abortion will be extremely important to their vote. Another poll found that the number of voters who named women’s rights or abortion among the top five problems they wanted to see the government work on more than doubled following the ruling. Additionally, according to another post-decision poll, 32 percent of voters now say they would only vote for a candidate who shares their view on abortion—up 12 percent from the group’s 2020 survey.
According to McKenzie Wilson, the communications director at the progressive polling firm Data for Progress, this is not a uniform set of voters. Their research shows that among this broad group is a significant number who don’t personally advocate abortion but who support others’ ability to receive one. “Obviously, those are pro-choice voters, right?” Wilson said. “But we have to make sure that they actually identify [as that].”
And while many of the people most motivated by Dobbs were already Democrats, that doesn’t represent the entire group. In some close races, Wilson said, suburban women who have historically voted Republican are—yet again—a vital swing group. In the case of Illinois’s 14th district—where Democratic Representative Lauren Underwood is running for reelection—these votes could be the difference between holding a vital House seat or ceding it to Republicans. “The persuasion aspect of this is really critical here,” Wilson said. “That’s going to be a race where [there are] a lot of suburban women who maybe have historically voted for Republicans because of quote unquote economic arguments, but were happy with the status quo of Roe being in place.”
Capturing this demographic will require a concerted shift in messaging that will appeal to these voters, said Marcela Mulholland, Data for Progress’s political director. For example, focusing on bodily autonomy and preventing government interference in personal decisions. “If Democrats say, ‘The GOP is trying to get involved in your personal health care decisions,’ we find that that’s one of the most effective messages,” Mulholland said.
Another tactic is to focus on the economic disparities at the core of widespread abortion bans. On the campaign trail in Missouri, Democratic Senate candidate Lucas Kunce is trying to do just that—by addressing abortion as an economic issue. According to Kunce, the people most excited about instituting the state’s trigger laws have been wealthy Republicans. “[People] know that the country club Republicans are all gonna go get abortions, just like they’ve always done,” he said. “It’s normal folks who aren’t going to have access.”
Kunce said he was surprised to see how much that message has reverberated with traditionally Republican voters. Recently, an evangelical family friend called him to say she supports his pro-choice stance after being denied insurance coverage for an IUD—which hit her with a $2,000 out-of-pocket bill—because, Kunce said, her workplace believed an IUD was functionally abortion.
“She’s just like, ‘That’s crazy. It’s absolutely crazy. Who is he to tell me what type of birth control I can use?’” Kunce said. This economic disparity has been enough to make voters like her rethink their vote, he said. “It’s this two-tiered society where, well, if you want an IUD, I guess you’d better be rich.”
At the same time, though the message about GOP overreach that researchers at Data for Progress have found effective in the wake of the Dobbs decision has been a powerful one on the trail, Kunce said he is still cautious of letting poll testing guide how he speaks to voters. He said that, for example, running on lowering the price of prescription drugs—one of the most theoretically popular policy stances for candidates— would still leave many Missouri voters unconvinced. “Do you know what a person in Missouri is gonna say when you say that? They’re gonna say, ‘Five hundred and thirty-five members of Congress ran on that exact issue. Five hundred and thirty-five. Every single one of them. It should have passed unanimously, and yet it still never happened,’” Kunce said. “‘Get the fuck off my porch’ is what they’re gonna say.”
But given the historic pattern of the party in power losing seats during the midterms, Wilson and Mulholland both said Democrats should nonetheless push Republicans to take difficult votes now, while they still have control of the House. They could partly accomplish this by addressing the economic issues polls find are strongly motivating voters and that Kunce noticed was effective on the campaign trail.
This kind of hard look at how the party is trying to reach voters is vital at a time when Democrats are reportedly at odds over the more basic elements of their messaging in a post-Dobbs world. Earlier this month, Politico reported that the Department of Justice told House Democrats not to use the phrase “codify Roe” when talking about the Women’s Health Protection Act (the entire point of which is to codify Roe), as the White House legal team is reportedly concerned that it could cause problems with future litigation. Multiple aides told Politico that they intend to ignore the guidance.
And Wilson and Mulholland are not certain the Democrats will make the change, even if it’s crucial now. “I think that [the Democrats] think they can ride to reelection on just abortion and January 6 alone without really addressing some of the economic issues,” Wilson said. But a business-as-usual approach to messaging threatens to squander this emergent coalition. This can be a tricky needle for Democrats to thread—especially given the popular talking point that, regardless of legality, wealthy women will always be able to get abortion.
After all, they still support being able to have one. “The reality is,” Wilson added, is “that a lot of those wealthy suburban women are people we need to convince to vote for us.”