Women are fired up over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the federal right to abortion, fueling a stark gender divide in midterm polling, but sour feelings on the economy are starting to eclipse the summer bombshell — a bad sign for Democrats.
President Biden quarried the abortion fervor during a campaign speech in Washington on Tuesday. He said the conservative majority “practically dared” women to show up in large numbers on Nov. 8 by stripping away the right that the Supreme Court established in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
He said Republicans would consider a nationwide ban if they retake Congress but the first task of an expanded Democratic majority would be to reestablish a federal right to abortion.
“The choice and the stakes are crystal clear, especially when it comes to the right to choose,” Mr. Biden said at the Howard Theatre. “If you care about the right to choose, then you have to vote.”
His open appeal to female voters coincides with warning signs for his party.
Despite a polling advantage with women broadly, independents who could determine key contests are breaking toward Republican candidates because of economic worries, according to a New York Times/Siena poll released this week.
Poll after poll also shows that the economy and inflation — key issues for Republican candidates — are top of mind for voters rather than abortion and gun control.
At the same, surveys show abortion is a motivating factor for independent women who support Democratic candidates by wide margins in marquee Senate races. Given that backdrop, Mr. Biden’s speech offered a direct appeal to women who are livid about the June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and sympathetic to the Democratic response.
“I want you to remember how you felt,” Mr. Biden said. “How you felt that day the extreme Dobbs decision came down and Roe was overturned after 50 years.”
Forecasters say the Republican Party is poised to retake the House majority it lost in 2018 because it needs to net only five seats, a much lower number than the historic average in midterm elections for the party out of power in the White House. Newly drawn congressional maps also favor Republicans in key contests.
The evenly divided Senate remains a toss-up heading into the sprint toward Election Day. Questions about candidate quality are blunting Republican advantages.
Surveys about the biggest swing-state Senate races show the sexes are mirror images. Men break toward Republican J.D. Vance in Ohio by 13 percentage points, and women prefer Democrat Tim Ryan by 10 points in the latest Emerson College poll.
Georgia women are selecting Democratic Sen. Raphael G. Warnock over Republican challenger Herschel Walker by high single digits while men prefer the football legend. The split is similar in Pennsylvania’s race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz.
Although partisan politics have had a gender gap for decades, analysts say the abortion decision is the key factor in this cycle.
“It is clear that the rage among women that their body is no longer under their own control has sent them into a fury, which was quite intense in the weeks after the Dobbs decision. In the immediate aftermath, lots of men were also upset,” said Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “My guess is that the intensity of feeling between men and women has diverged. Women remain angry and mobilized, men somewhat less so.
“There has always been a gender gap in party affiliation. On matters of war and peace, for example, women see the GOP as more truculent and disposed to use military force; Democrats less so,” Mr. Baker said. “But it’s also the salience of the abortion issue. It is women who are most directly affected.”
David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said independents who could decide key races are producing a notable trend.
In New Hampshire, independent men favor Republican Don Bolduc, 44% to 37% over Sen. Maggie Hassan, but the Democratic incumbent wallops Mr. Bolduc, 65% to 19% among independent women in Suffolk polling.
In Arizona, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly holds a 48% to 41% lead among independent men, but his lead widens among independent women to 58% to 29%.
In Nevada, Republicans have a key pickup opportunity for the Senate with Adam Laxalt. Mr. Laxalt leads among independent men 45% to 33% but trails Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto 38% to 35%, with a high undecided rate.
The results show Mr. Biden’s low approval numbers and economic worries are more pronounced among independent men while abortion serves as a wedge issue that offsets some economic worries among independent women.
“It’s almost like the president has formulated these remarks on the PowerPoint slides and data we’ve produced,” Mr. Paleologos said of Mr. Biden’s speech Tuesday.
Early voting has begun in some states, and it’s unclear which way the economic winds will blow by Election Day.
Women who identified as independents favored Republicans by 18 percentage points in the NYT/Siena poll, a massive swing from a 14-point edge for Democrats in September as liberal candidates focused on abortion access. Some independent women told NYT/Siena pollsters that they were livid about the abortion decision but Republicans seemed more “geared toward business” and could address inflation worries.
Pollsters said it is unclear whether those findings mean Democratic support will crater or whether it is a blip on the polling radar given the historic sweep of the abortion issue.
“We haven’t picked that trend up yet,” Mr. Paleologos said. “I don’t know that after many decades of Roe v. Wade how an issue like that, which drove so much voter registration, just dissipates because the leaves are turning.”
IGNITE, an organization that trains young women to run for office, said it is seeing some mobilization of Generation Z women around the Dobbs decision, including a voter-registration surge ahead of a Kansas referendum on abortion restrictions. One trend that sticks out is that men do not prioritize abortion access as much as others.
“One thing we do know from our research is that cisgender men [men who were male at birth], overall, prioritize abortion as an issue less than women and trans and gender non-conforming people,” said Sara Guillermo, CEO of IGNITE. “When just looking at cis men in our study, inflation was the number one issue, followed by health care, mental health, jobs and unemployment, and mass shootings.”
Republicans say Democrats are overreaching on abortion and remain out of step with Americans struggling to afford food and gas.
“First, Americans do not want Biden and Democrats’ extreme, taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand agenda,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Tuesday. “Second, Democrats can’t distract from the Biden pay cut, the higher prices, and the tax increases they have inflicted on voters. Republicans will win in November because we are focused on the issues voters care about most.”
Republican candidates are speaking similarly.
“Our economy is sliding into recession, deadly narcotics are pouring through our southern border, crime has a chokehold on our communities,” Tammy Smiley, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Washington, said Tuesday. “But President Biden’s top legislative priority tackles none of these crises.”
Soaring costs, a wobbly Wall Street and fears of a recession show signs of boxing out everything else.
Abortion ranked third among critical issues in a recent CBS/YouGov poll, with 54% deeming it “very important,” though that is much lower than the number who ranked the economy (86%) or inflation (76%) as critical.
Also, few voters were ready to break ranks for a candidate outside their party affiliations. Only 7% of Democratic women are considering voting for a Republican and 5% of Republican women are considering a Democrat, suggesting the abortion ruling hasn’t led to a wave of party-switching among female voters.
Some of the fallout of the Supreme Court ruling may have been blunted by the realization that abortion is now a state-level issue, not one that federal officeholders dominate.
Arizona and Georgia sprang into action immediately after the ruling with new restrictions, Pennsylvania and Colorado have made no changes, and some leaders in Democratic-leaning states took action to reaffirm or even expand access to abortion.
A Harvard/Harris poll found voters were split 50-50 on whether they supported or opposed the Dobbs decision. The polling question notes that the ruling “allows each state to decide its own standards for abortion instead of a set right.”
A plurality of voters said abortion rights should be set by state legislatures (47%) instead of Congress (29%) or “Supreme Court judges” (23%). Among Democrats alone, the biggest share would like nationwide rules from Capitol Hill.
Although 4 in 10 voters said the Dobbs decision made them more likely to vote for a Democrat, nearly an equal number — 37% — said it pushed them toward a Republican and 23% said it had no effect.