You can see why Republicans are so desperate to retain measures that suppress voting: It’s probably the only way for them to stay in power. It sure isn’t the popularity of their policies.

A new Quinnipiac University poll finds: “American voters agree 65 - 27 percent with the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision. . . . ‘There is little ambivalence as recent legislation in Alabama, Missouri and other states renews an emotional national debate over abortion,’ said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.” Just as President Trump and Republicans in Congress made the Affordable Care Act more popular by trying to take it away, voters seem to be rallying to protect the rights of women to decide whether to have an abortion:

Abortion should be legal in all cases, 28 percent of American voters say. . . matching the highest level of support for abortion in all cases since Quinnipiac University first asked the question in 2004.
Another 32 percent say abortion should be legal in most cases, as 27 percent say abortion should be illegal in most cases and 8 percent say it should be illegal in all cases, the lowest level of support for illegal in all cases.

Perhaps the Supreme Court should tread lightly. Fifty-five percent of voters already think the court is too political.

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Now, as bad as the abortion figures are, the gun numbers are even worse for Republicans. The poll finds, “American voters support 94 - 4 percent requiring background checks for all gun buyers. Gun owners support universal background checks 90 - 9 percent. Voters support 61 - 34 percent stricter gun laws in the U.S. Republicans, gun owners and voters in households where there is a gun are the only listed groups opposed.” Even more petrifying for the National Rifle Association, “Voters also support 77 - 19 percent requiring individuals to obtain a license before being able to purchase a gun. Voters also support 63 - 33 percent a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons.”

There are lots of reasons the GOP clings to unpopular positions, including donor demands, the outsize influence of evangelical Christians on the right, the closed media bubble they inhabit and the intensity of the most radical groups in the party (who turn out to vote most consistently).

Democrats are fully aware they have public opinion on their side, but with Republicans in the White House and a GOP majority in the Senate, the popular will is thwarted on abortion, guns and a raft of other issues.

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Some Democrats have jumped to the conclusion that the electoral college is broken because rural and conservative states have disproportionate power. Whatever the merits of their argument, unless measures such as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact succeed in getting states to cast electoral votes in accord with the nation’s popular vote, the problem won’t be solved, except by a constitutional amendment (which will be blocked by the same red states that now enjoy disproportionate influence in the electoral college).

Politicians such as Stacey Abrams who see the disconnect between voter opinion and legislative outcomes say the answer rests in ending voter suppression. The reason our laws don’t look like the polling numbers is because the electorate doesn’t accurately reflect the makeup of the country. Changing that would require a multipronged effort to reinstate pre-clearance of election changes under the Voting Rights Act, ending voter purges, instituting voting by mail and/or automatic registration, and having adequate polling places in disadvantaged communities.

Meanwhile, there is a spate of good old-fashioned participatory democracy going on, true grass-roots efforts to persuade fellow Americans and change laws or protect rights.

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Gun-safety activists, motivated by school shootings, and abortion-rights activists have started mobilizing and challenging previously inviolate political rules. Last December, NBC News reported, “For gun control advocates, the 2018 midterm elections were largely a success. They defeated at least 15 House Republicans with 'A' National Rifle Association ratings, unseating them with Democrats holding an ‘F’ . . . . They outspent the NRA and pro-gun rights groups for the first time, $10 million to $8 million, per data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.” (The NRA’s financial, public relations and legal problems provide gun-safety advocates with an unusual organizing advantage, at least for a short window leading up to 2020.)

On the abortion front, activists sparked by the state abortion bans are fundraising, organizing and mobilizing like crazy. On Tuesday, thousands of women at hundreds of events around the country protested the new anti-abortion bans, vowing to challenge them in court and throw out of office the lawmakers who supported these measures. However, unless that enthusiasm now is translated into recruitment, support and election of candidates determined to undo abortion bans, women will still be at the mercy, ultimately, of a conservative U.S. Supreme Court.

The good news for Democrats/bad news for Republicans is that on at least these two hot-button issues, the GOP position is deeply unpopular. Republicans’ success in skewing the electorate in state and federal elections now faces serious challenges by gun-safety and abortion activists who realize the answer to adverse outcomes resulting from anti-democratic (small "d") measures is more democracy at the local, state and federal levels. Without that, overwhelmingly unpopular laws won’t come off the books.

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