One would think with the entire GOP establishment and prominent conservatives rallying around derailing Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s bid would get the media and Democrats to get the message to stop painting the GOP as extremist on abortion. But it seems not. Akin’s comments about “legitimate” rape have set off a firestorm it is unclear he can weather. For Democrats, this seems like a godsend when the economy under their watch is struggling.
Since the 1990s Democrats have been attracting single women and college educated voters to their ranks through moderation on social policies. By moderation I mean the party being pro-choice and unofficially until this year pro gay marriage. In 2010 social issues were a non-issue and the GOP benefited from a national focus on the weak economy and Obamacare. Since 2011 the national focus has shifted several times. First it was on contraception, then gay marriage, back to the economy and now apparently back to abortion. How long a focus on abortion lasts is the question.
Prominent Democrats and candidates are attempting to paint the entire GOP, not just Todd Akin, as being radical and out of step on abortion with the country. Oh if only the answer was so simple. It is true that true pro-life voters back Republicans and pro-choice voters back Democrats. But independents have been more apt to say they are pro-life than pro-choice. In a Gallup survey taken last year 50% of Americans identified as pro-life (a plurality did among independents) as opposed to 41% who were pro-choice. However 52% of those sampled also said abortion should be allowed in some circumstances.
So it is obvious Akin is out of step with most people’s, even pro-life voters, views on the issue. But what about the entire GOP at large? The RNC recently adopted a no exceptions abortion ban to its platform which will be show-cased with pro-life speakers such as Mike Huckabee. But the RNC will also feature two prominent pro-choice Republican Governors, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Susana Martinez of New Mexico. Rudy Guiliani is also slated to speak and he is yet another pro-choice believer. So while the GOP may have in its platform a no abortion pledge it obviously is willing to let pro-choice speakers talk not to mention run in key races in the West.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan even disagree with the party plank. Both Romney and Ryan have solid pro-life records and say they are. That said, both agree that abortion should be allowed in the cases of rape, incest or o save the life of the mother.
Democrats are likely to face an uphill battle in trying to paint every GOP candidate as extreme on abortion. Virtually every Republican, from Scott Brown (R-MA) to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to Sarah Palin have denounced Akin’s comments and said rape is never legitimate. Democrats obviously are rejoicing Akin may cost the GOP a Senate seat in the state but nationally it is likely not to be much of an issue.
Keep in mind Democrats are set to for the first time unveil a pro gay-marriage platform at the DNC. This may play well with their base of college educated voters and single women but blue-collar men, traditionally Reagan Democrats, and African-Americans are uneasy about it. Case in point. Earlier this year when North Carolina (the site of the DNC) voted on a new Amendment to its Constitution to ban gay marriage every county minus Raleigh, Durham and Wake voted for it. In other words the heavily African-American counties in the Southeast of the state opposed it as did college educated white counties, including Charlotte.
None of this is to say these platforms are right or wrong. Rather it points out just how difficult it would be for Democrats to wage a campaign on social issues when the GOP and virtually every media pundit will be hitting on the economy. At some point even the media would start to wonder about Democrats motivations. It definitely does not help individual Democrats campaigns that American voters are used to a “candidate based” electoral system. This makes it easier for Scott Brown in Massachusetts or Connie Mack in Florida to run away from Akin’s statement.
As for what the GOP is becoming there is no doubt the GOP has moved to the right on social issues. Since 2010 many Republican controlled states have passed stricter laws on abortions. In Virginia a law was recently passed requiring women who want an abortion to get an ultrasound before it is done (or the doctor cannot legally perform it). In numerous other states Republicans have challenged the Federal law defining partial birth abortion as an abortion after six months. Many states have passed new laws dropping it to five months.
However, it seems to have not hurt the party. They are handily winning the voting groups they are expected to and are running competitively among swing groups such as college educated women and blue-collar whites. Even college educated men gravitate towards the GOP despite this stance. In a recent Washington Post survey a solid 66% of Republican women said abortion should be illegal or illegal most of the time. Republican men backed these ideas with 62%. Independent men and women were less willing to express these feelings but showed continuing anxieties on economic questions.
So even if the GOP has moved to the right on social issues Americans seem not to care, at least this election cycle. The economy will be front and center and if Romney and Ryan can portray themselves as better stewards of the economy, social issues will not matter to any voters other than partisans.