How Did We Do in the Midterms?

The pro-choice movement is claiming victory in the 2006 Midterm Elections. We turned back a draconian abortion law in South Dakota and two mandated parental involvement initiatives in California and Oregon, all with about a 55-45 margin. Pro-choice forces picked up three new Senate seats and about 22 new House seats with some House races still undecided.

But the exit polls and the new party makeup in Congress show that the election was anything but a referendum on, or a victory for, choice in the long term.

The exit polls differ from prior years in that there was no ranking of issues asked of the voter, thus we do not know the relative importance of the issues that voters said concerned them. What we know is what voters thought about each individual issue. Voters were asked if an issue as ‘extremely,’ ‘very,’ ‘somewhat’ or ‘not-at-all’ important in deciding for whom to vote for in the House of Representatives. The ranking of the major issues was:

Issue Extremely/Very Important
Scandals 74%
Economy 72%
Terrorism 72%
Iraq 68%
Immigration 62%
Values 57%

The two issues specifically referred to in the values question were same-sex marriage and abortion. The values vote broke down as follows:

Relative Importance Democrat Republican
Extremely 40% 58%
Very 51% 47%
Somewhat 61% 37%
Not-at-all 69% 29%

Voters were not asked to name their most important issue. In 2004, the voter was asked this question, and 22% said “values”. Of these voters 80% voted for President Bush. It is tempting to say that Democrats in 2006 won over more of the values voter, since Democrats won 40% of the votes of those who say values were “extremely important”. But the polling questions and methodology were different in 2004 and 2006. It has to be noted also that Democrats won gubernatorial races (Ohio) and senatorial races (Pennsylvania) by running a Methodist minister and an anti-choice candidate respectively. In some Congressional races the Democratic candidate, and victor, was anti-choice.

The Schumer-Emanuel strategy becomes clear when you look at the pro-choice results versus the Democratic Party results. As stated above, the pro-choice pick up in the Senate was 3 seats, plus one mixed-choice seat. The Democrats won 6 seats. In the House the pro-choice forces won 22 seats; the Democrats won about 30. Pro-life Democrats took the balance of the seats. These include Bob Casey of Pennsylvania in the Senate and Heath Shuler of North Carolina in the House. It is doubtful, depending on the issue, whether there is a pro-choice majority in either house, even thought here is a Democratic Party majority in both. The good news is that Democratic majorities mean that little, if any, anti-choice legislation will reach the floor.

The bigger pro-choice loss, however, was on the Republican side. The small band of Republican moderates, either partially or entirely pro-choice, dwindled even further. Lincoln Chafee lost his Rhode Island Senate seat. Two Connecticut Republicans, Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson, lost theirs, as did Jim Leach in Iowa. Two New Hampshire Republicans, Jeb Bradley and Charlie Bass of New Hampshire, and Congresswoman Sue Kelly of New York also lost. The GOP now holds just one of 22 House seats in New England.

Choice will never be safe until both political parties subscribe to it. The loss of such stalwart defenders of choice on the Republican side is nothing short of a disaster.

Pro-choice forces can see some rays of hope in the opinion polls though. In the last Gallup Poll to ask specifically about abortion, taken in May 2006, 30% of respondents said that abortion should be legal in all circumstances, up from 23% a year earlier. This is down from 33% in September 1994, but is a heartening upward trend from more recent polls. Unfortunately, those who want abortion legal in ‘most circumstances’ were only 13%, for a mostly-pro-choice total of 43%. Those respondents who want abortion legal in only a ‘few circumstances’ or not at all were 39% and 15% respectively, for an anti-choice total of 54%.

The upshot: not a lot of pro-choice legislative initiatives will get anywhere in this Congress, and the anti-choice Trojan Horse inside the Democratic Big Tent got bigger, and the forces of moderation inside the Republican party got smaller.

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