In a November 26 Washington Post essay, political scientists John McTague and Melissa Deckman reported news of epic proportions to pro-lifers while dissecting why the “war on women” meme bombed in the 2014 Midterms:
Democratic campaigns mistakenly conflated abortion and government-mandated insurance coverage for birth control, even though voters view these two issues through different lenses. In short, Democrats fundamentally misunderstood why there is a gender gap in American politics in the first place.
Attitudes about the size and scope of government – not abortion – are what drive the gender gap. Women are more likely than men to believe that the federal government should provide assistance to the poor, in part because women are disproportionately likely to be recipients of such government aid.
However, as the Udall ad… illustrates, the rhetoric of the “war on women” often fuses the separate issues of insurance coverage for birth control with abortion rights, treating both as “culture war” issues, and this is not how most voters perceive the issue.
As our research shows, attitudes about abortion and attitudes about government-mandated insurance coverage for birth control are not strongly related. Americans view abortion largely as an issue of personal morality, akin to other “culture war” issues, such as gay rights and marijuana. By contrast, insurance coverage for birth control taps into attitudes about economic opportunity and the proper size and scope of government.
This news is big because it strikes at the very strategy abortion proponents were pinning their hopes on to entice both women and Millennials, key demographic groups whose support of abortion is flailing, as noted by pro-abortion Sarah Kliff at WaPo in 2012 (and NARAL back in 2010):
[T]he White House sees… a chance to widen the reproductive health debate beyond abortion to issues like contraceptives, winning over key demographics of independent voters in the process… young voters and women…
These voters have tended to be difficult for abortion rights supporters to engage on reproductive health issues like abortion. Research from NARAL Pro-Choice America, which I wrote about last weekend, found a significant “intensity gap” there, with abortion rights supporters much less likely to see it as a crucial voting issue than their anti-abortion counterparts.
But when the conversation moves away from abortion to contraceptives… the intensity gap flips: A much larger segment of voters are willing to penalize a legislator who votes to defund family planning.
Hence, the entire “war on women” strategy, which clearly flopped last month. McTague and Deckman weren’t sure it was ever a success.
The important take-away is abortion proponents thought they found a winning issue – contraception – to leech the losing issue of abortion to, but they were wrong.
Both Millennials and women still separate the two in their minds – even after being pounded by millions of dollars of advertising – deeming abortion a moral issue they’re not necessarily crazy about and contraception an economic issue they’re not necessarily flocking to the polls to support.
Not that I don’t think the other side will think of a new strategy, but they’re still losing, and everyone knows it. For example, a few recent articles by abortion supporters: “It’s not just Hobby Lobby: the pro-life movement is winning,” “Ten reasons women are losing while gays keep winning,” “Pro-life movement winning the battle over abortion, birth control accessibility.”