In an interview with KWQC-TV in September, Ann Romney repeated her husband’s campaign claim that this election is about economic issues, not social issues like abortion, birth control or marriage equality.
But according to a new Gallup poll, “Economic policy may be dominating this year's presidential campaign, but the abortion issue appears no less relevant to U.S. registered voters than usual.” The survey finds that 1 in 6 voters say that a candidate’s views on abortion are central to winning their vote, and another 45% say that abortion will be one of many important issues; only 34% don’t see abortion is a major issue.
Pro-life voters are more likely to say that a candidate’s stance on abortion matters to them than pro-choice voters, with 21% vs. 15% saying they would only vote for a candidate who shares their views and 49% vs. 43% saying a candidate’s position on abortion is an important factor.
How much attention abortion rights have been getting —or should be getting— in this election cycle is open to debate. Gallup, for instance, notes that “although Wednesday night's presidential debate was devoted exclusively to domestic issues, there was no mention of abortion or other values issues.” The country is fairly divided in its attitudes about abortion — but that doesn’t mean Americans won’t make their attitudes known. How should either candidate be hoping to win over voters on the issue of abortion?
While he is now staunchly in support of his party’s pro-life platform, Romney’s stances on abortion have changed over the years.
In 2012, Romney says that his position is clear. He is “in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest, and the health and life of the mother,’ adding that although the Democrats have tried to make abortion a political issue, “it’s been settled for some time in the courts.”
But as PolicyMic’s own Audrey Farber has been documenting for a while now, abortion is far from settled — at least when it comes to the state courts. While Roe v. Wade may be “settled,” states have the freedom to interpret the Supreme Court’s ruling to effectively ban or criminalize abortion, or at least make abortion inaccessible by shutting down clinics in the state.
Thus, while Romney essentially calls the issue moot, it isn’t — and it’s even possible he may benefit from the pro-life vote. The Daily Caller suggests that Mitt Romney may benefit from a slight edge amongst single-issue voters. (For reference, the number of single-issue voters, both pro-life and pro-choice, has not risen significantly over the past four presidential elections, with the exception of the 2004 election, when it jumped from 8% to 12%.)
Conversely, at Salon, Irin Carmon argues, “Republican overreach has given Democrats an opening to argue that reproductive rights are about more than just abortion, though they have to include abortion, and that abortion restrictions are about a profound contempt for women’s decision-making and autonomy, not just concern for fetuses.”
Certainly, abortion rights were an explicit part of the Democratic National Convention, as indicated by the inclusion of the president of NARAL Pro Choice America, Nancy Keenan, who charged that Romney “would overturn Roe v. Wade and sign into law a wave of outrageous restrictions on a woman's ability to make decisions about her pregnancy. Mitt Romney would take away our power to make decisions about our lives and our futures.” At the DNC, abortion rights were framed as part of the larger “war on women” being waged by the GOP, which includes other “women’s issues” battles over reproductive health, health care, and equal pay. (Republicans, in turn, responded by charging that Democrats were only interested in women “from the waist down” and asserting that the real “war on women” is an economic one.)
Gallup notes that courting voters based on abortion may be a risky move for either candidate.
“Regardless, making obvious overtures to abortion issue-voters could hurt Romney and Barack Obama with the broader electorate that may want to see the candidates focusing more single-mindedly on the economy. It could also backfire by activating abortion voters on the other side to turn out for the opponent.”
One thing remains clear: while abortion may not be the top priority for either candidate, it is nonetheless a salient issue. We already know that access to birth control improves women’s ability to perform economically, and we know that easier access to birth control reduces the rate of abortions. It’s time for all of us, including Obama and Romney, to begin evaluating how these two allegedly “separate” issues in the election may be linked — especially when it comes to how voters will cast their ballots.