Politico asks and answers the question: “Was abortion a wave-stopper for Democrats in 2010?”
As many of the anti-abortion Democrats elected over the last four years were going down in defeat, the party made abortion a central concern in a handful of battleground Senate races — and they ended up in the Democratic column as a result.
The states at issue are California, Colorado, Nevada, and Washington. In all of them, successful Democratic Senatorial candidates made an issue of their opponents’ opposition to abortion. In all of them, women favored the Democrat.
But let’s take a closer look at the exit polls, starting with California. While Barbara Boxer defeated Carly Fiorina 55-39 among women, Fiorina beat Boxer 49-46 among white women. To be sure, that latter number could have been higher (nationally, Republicans beat Democrats 58-39 among white women), the fact remains that an emphatic pro-abortion stance harmed more than helped with the single largest bloc of women in the California electorate. Of course, a Democratic strategist could respond that it helped at the margins, moving some white women in Boxer’s direction. But reaffirming its identity as the party of abortion can’t be at the top of the Democrats’ to-do list.
Then there’s Colorado, where Bennet beat Buck 56-39 among women and 51-44 among white women. A majority of voters regarded Buck as too extreme, and there are plenty of observers (mostly, but not entirely, pro-choice) who want to claim that his stance on abortion cost him the election. But I ask again: in a race between the party of abortion and the party of life (understood as most Americans understand it), who wins in Colorado?
In Nevada, Harry Reid beat Sharron Angle among women 53-42, but lost white women 50-43. As in California, the gender gap is largely a function of the ethnic composition of the electorate. Is the main reason African-American and Hispanic women support Democrats their stance on abortion? I’d be willing to bet that in many cases, the support comes in spite of the Democrats’ abortion stance.
Finally, in Washington Patty Murray comprehensively won the women’s vote over Dino Rossi, but Washington is a “blue” state with party and ideological identification to the left of the nation’s as a whole.
If I were to draw a lesson from the evidence before us, it isn’t that abortion is a winner or wave-stopper for Democrats, or that Republicans need to modulate their pro-life positions in order to win office. It’s that Republicans have to find a way (which has nothing to do with abortion) to win over more African-American and Hispanic voters. That’s been done before and can surely be done again.
In the meantime, if Democrats want to strengthen their connection with roughly one-third of the electorate by emphasizing their strongly pro-choice position, well, who am I to stand in their way?