A guest essay in last Sunday’s New York Times echoed that Facebook meme going around–the one that shows women glaring and promising a “Roevember election.” The essay was written by someone named Tom Bonier, who was identified as a a Democratic political strategist and the C.E.O. of TargetSmart, a data and polling firm.
Bonier began by acknowledging that, over the last few years, Americans have–as he put it– “acclimated to some very grim realities.” He listed school massacres, dehumanization of immigrants and autocratic regimes treated as allies, and noted that no matter how grim those and other realities have gotten, Americans have seemed unwilling to exact political consequences.
When the Dobbs decision leaked, and the reaction was relatively muted, he assumed that pattern would hold.
But once the actual Dobbs decision came down, everything changed. For many Americans, confronting the loss of abortion rights was different from anticipating it. In my 28 years analyzing elections, I’ve never seen anything like what’s happened in the past two months in American politics: Women are registering to vote in numbers I’ve never witnessed. I’ve run out of superlatives to describe how different this moment is, especially in light of the cycles of tragedy and eventual resignation of recent years. This is a moment to throw old political assumptions out the window and to consider that Democrats could buck historic trends this cycle.
Bonier is a numbers guy, so he’s been looking at the numbers. In the wake of the enormous victory for reproductive rights in Kansas, he looked at new voter registrants in the state since the Dobbs decision came down in late June.
As shocking as the election result was to me, what I found was more striking than any single election statistic I can recall discovering throughout my career. Sixty-nine percent of those new registrants were women. In the six months before Dobbs, women outnumbered men by a three-point margin among new voter registrations. After Dobbs, that gender gap skyrocketed to 40 points. Women were engaged politically in a way that lacked any known precedent.
Repeating the Kansas analysis across several other states, a clear pattern emerged. Nowhere were the results as stark as they were there, but no other state was facing the issue with the immediacy of an August vote on a constitutional amendment. What my team and I did find was large surges in women registering to vote relative to men, when comparing the period before June 24 and after.
Bonier concedes that, with over two months until Election Day, nothing is certain. As he notes, all election predictions rely heavily on past experience, and there really is “no precedent for an election centered around the removal of a constitutional right affirmed a half-century before.”
In other words, every poll that will be taken between now and Election Day will rely on a likely voter model for which there exists no benchmark.
Already, several Republicans seem to be sensing that they’re in trouble. In Arizona, the Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters, an ardent abortion opponent, recently wiped language advocating extreme abortion restrictions from his website.
Whether the coming elections will be viewed as a red wave, a Roe wave or something in between will be decided by the actions of millions of Americans — especially, it seems, American women. As Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority decision in Dobbs: “Women are not without electoral or political power.” He was right about that. Republicans might soon find out just how much political power they have.
When the Supreme Court accepted Dobbs, a Mississippi case, I posted “Be Careful What You Wish For,” and quoted longtime Court watcher Linda Greenhouse. Greenhouse recalled a 2011 Mississippi referendum that would have granted personhood status to a fertilized egg. Mississippi is arguably Redder than Kansas, but it was handily defeated, 58% to 41%.
That’s when the anti-abortion forces decided that friendly legislatures were a better bet than the will of the people.
Greenhouse noted that four nationwide polls had found more than 60 percent of registered or likely voters opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade. And she shared a statistic we’ve seen more frequently since Dobbs was issued:
Nearly one American woman in four will have an abortion. (Catholic women get about one-quarter of all abortions, roughly in proportion to the Catholic share of the American population.) Decades of effort to drive abortion to the margins of medical practice have failed to dislodge it from the mainstream of women’s lives.
As I wrote then, for a long time, the GOP has depended upon the relative lack of political activism by pro-choice voters who assumed that the courts would protect them. If Bonier’s numbers mean anything, they mean that dynamic has changed. Dramatically.
Karma’s a bitch. And bitches are female.