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Opinion A post-Dobbs gender gap in new voters is poised to affect midterms

Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, center, joins demonstrators protesting the Supreme Court's decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case on June 24 in Miami. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In a batch of swing-district races I’ve looked at in recent days (contests in Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Virginia and Washington), the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade appears to have changed voters’ priorities and put Republicans who support abortion bans on the defensive. The June ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization might have a profound effect in many states with hotly contested races, according to findings by TargetSmart, a Democratic political data and data services firm.

The electorate in Kansas “changed dramatically” in the days after a draft of the court’s Dobbs decision leaked in May, the TargetSmart analysis indicates. “Kansans turned out in record numbers in the primary and delivered a victory for abortion rights, a win fueled by Democrats out registering Republicans by 9 points since the Dobbs decision was announced, with a staggering 70% of all new registrants being women,” the firm found. And this trend isn’t limited to Kansas.

Kansans resoundingly reject amendment aimed at restricting abortion rights

TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier says the gender gap in new registrations is evident in multiple states:

If the tilt toward female registrants holds up, it might affect House and Senate seats in key states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where the gender gap among new registrations is 11 points or greater.

In Wisconsin, where Democratic Senate nominee Mandela Barnes is facing Republican incumbent Ron Johnson, the TargetSmart data show that “women have out-registered men by 15.6%” since Dobbs was decided and that “Democrats make up 52.36% of all of those newly registered voters, compared with 16.59% of new voters registering as Republicans.”

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That’s problematic for Johnson, a hard-line proponent of forced pregnancy and forced birth who cheered the repeal of Roe. Johnson will have to explain to voters what he meant in May when he told the Wall Street Journal: “It might be a little messy for some people, but abortion is not going away.” He also said: “I just don’t think this is going to be the big political issue everybody thinks it is, because it’s not going to be that big a change.”

The facts on the ground contradict his blithe assurances. In Wisconsin, the repeal of Roe appeared to leave reproductive rights governed by an 1849 law that bans nearly all abortions. (The law has been challenged by the state’s Democratic governor and attorney general.) The latest poll from Marquette University Law School found that 60 percent of respondents oppose Roe’s repeal. The 1849 statute makes no exception for rape or incest or even a serious health condition — only a threat to the woman’s life. The percentage of registered Wisconsin voters who think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases has risen over the past two months (perhaps due to all the new women voters). Marquette found that 88 percent think abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, a state referendum to codify Roe is headed for the November ballot. As in Wisconsin, new registrants have skewed female. “Among the 12,879 new voters that have registered since the Dobbs decision, women are out-registering men by 8.1 percentage points,” TargetSmart reports. Moreover, “In the same time frame, Democrats are out-registering Republicans by 18 percentage points.”

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Anecdotal and polling evidence suggest that abortion is moving up the list of priorities for many voters. If more women and more pro-choice voters who prioritize abortion rights cast ballots, candidates’ positions on Dobbs might be decisive. As TargetSmart’s analysis put it, “Right now, all signs point to a fired up female electorate around the country in states where abortion rights are under immediate threat.” No wonder so many Republican candidates who used to tout their antiabortion stances have gone mute.