Written off, derided, neglected - and now ruthlessly exploited by the Obama campaign with a tailwind of media bias - the abortion issue may yet be decisive in the 2012 election. Decisive for Gov. Mitt Romney, that is.
This might seem counterintuitive at first. After all, the Obama campaign is a nest of political pros who would not have chosen to hammer "reproductive choice" without solid polling that the issue cuts their way, right? Given that the media echo chamber can ferret out a GOP "war on women" in the debate over Planned Parenthood funding, but not on the question of sex selection abortions, the inference that "abortion helps Obama" is certainly reasonable.
Still, abortion as a voting matter has for decades conferred an increment in favor of pro-life candidates. That increment does not occur everywhere, but it shows up in national polls and is an even stronger factor in most of this year's designated swing states. Consider the Gallup poll. From 1995 to the present, the percentage of U.S. adults who label themselves pro-life has risen from 33 to 50 percent, an increase of 50 percentage points. At the same time, the percentage of adults who label themselves pro-choice has dropped from 56 to 41 percent, an enormous swing.
Changing labels has not, however, coincided to date with radical increases in the number of single-issue voters. Even so, Gallup's measure of voting sentiment from 1984 to the present has found that pro-life candidates (typically but not always Republicans) have a net gain of between 2.2 and 3.4 percentage points due to their stance on the right to life. The most recent Gallup poll on this subject, from September 24 to 27, found that 16 percent of voters are more or less single issue on abortion, and 9 percent versus 7 percent are pro-life in their outlook and voting behavior.
This gap of just 2 percent is at the lower end of the historical range. It may reflect to a degree the millions of dollars President Obama and his allies at Planned Parenthood have spent on abortion and contraception advertising. The pattern is consistent with a not-altogether-unsuccessful effort to rally younger women in the Democratic base.
Such advertising has a significant downside. Meant for targeted audiences, it has spilled over into the general campaign. It has spawned sharp commentary and millions of dollars in pro-life, swing state ads from groups like ours, who are able to point out how the Democratic Party has abandoned all semblance of pro-life sympathy with its embrace of "any and all" abortions in Charlotte. There is a seeming desperation in the Obama campaign's messaging, as they try to persuade the public that Planned Parenthood does few abortions and countless mammograms, when the truth is they do hundreds of thousands of abortions and not a single mammogram.
Planned Parenthood is even reportedly dropping what little prenatal care it offers.
Many people continue to think the election will come down to Ohio. In 2004, when national exit polls showed values issues were at the very top of voter concerns, President George W. Bush closed out his campaign at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park. He spoke about the pending state marriage amendment and drove home strongly his views on abortion, which contrasted from those of John Kerry. Turnout in Ohio's rural and small urban centers sharply increased. Mr. Bush won Ohio and carried the election.
Pro-life groups are used to the Buckeye state as a battleground. They have been here before. Besides television and radio spots, groups like ours have deployed teams all year who are working with churches, registering voters, distributing voter guides, and implementing get-out-the-vote strategies. Ohio's working-class voters appreciate the auto bailout and an improved labor market in the state, but Mr. Obama's rejection of life, marriage and religious freedom is a bitter pill many cannot swallow.
Conversely, the Obama administration has spent tens of millions of dollars on scaring women into believing he's the only one who cares about their "health." Fear indeed is a powerful motivator, but he and his allies underestimate both the intelligence and priorities of women. Yes, women can use their brains, not solely rely on other parts of their body, to move ahead.
Abortion advocates demean women by thinking the thing they care about is having the right to "choose" to have an abortion. Women are much smarter and savvier than Cecile Richards, Stephanie Cutter and Sandra Fluke give them credit for. The women of Ohio see through these Halloween tactics.
Social conservatives, outgunned in so many media shootouts, excel at grassroots mobilization. If Ohio tips to Mr. Romney, you may not see us in the headlines, but our handiwork will be all over it.
Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the Susan B. Anthony List.