The liberal magazine Salon has published a series of articles in recent weeks championing pro-choice Texas state Senator Wendy Davis. Davis helped derail a pro-life Texas bill that would have banned abortion at 5 months (unless a doctor had cause) and tighten up health requirements for abortion clinics. Salon has published a number of articles ranging from how “brave” she is to how it shows Southern Democrats the way forward electorally. All hogwash. But as I was scanning the Internet I saw one I could not turn away from, especially with a title, “It’s a Wendy Davis nation, now!” Really? How so?
In the state Davis resides in a solid 62% of Texans support the bill. Nationwide, 50% of the public sides with efforts to ban abortion after 5 months. Contrary to popular opinion, younger and more liberal voters actually support this effort by a sizable margin. So exactly how is it a Wendy Davis nation? Probably because Salon wants it to be. The article bases its assertions largely on the success of Democrats in 2012 playing the issue of rape and abortion against Republicans. It also points to liberals and the President supporting her filibuster in late June. Yep, that means the public supports her efforts.
The article later goes on to infer that this is the way forward for the Democratic Party. Supposedly long blamed for losing “value” voters with their pro-choice stance a shift of attitudes on the issue has benefited the Democratic Party. Oh really? That must explain why in 2012 Gallup’s annual survey on support/opposition to abortion found a majority, 51% identified as pro-life and 42% as pro-choice. Within these groups there were differing views on rape, incest and health of the mother. The survey does not break down support or opposition but it is not a stretch to imagine a large majority of Southerners identify as pro-life.
Certainly, Democrats have benefited from a shift on the issue. But exactly how wide and deep that shift is, is very debatable. Furthermore, it is hard to gauge whether this shift really made many voters go Left instead of Right in 2010 or subsequent elections. Certainly it did not in the Tea Party wave of 2010 (not my name by the way).
There are several ways to test the assertion that pro-choice Democrats offer the party a way forward in the South without even having to do statistical or regression analysis. A simpler analysis would simply to be to look at election returns in the region. Exactly how many Democratic Governors do you see in the region who are pro-choice? For that matter how many Democratic Governors do you see in the region at all (three: Missouri, Arkansas and Kentucky-all who identify as pro-life)?
Democrats running for statewide office in the South in recent years have taken two tracks; focus on portraying themselves as competent individuals or playing up their social conservative/pro-life resume. Even in swing states such as North Carolina, Virginia and Florida (the New South as it is becoming known), Democrats are hesitant to widely yell. “I am pro-choice.” In states such as Louisiana, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, etc. it is a death knell for Democratic candidates.
Now one can make the argument in diversifying states a pro-choice Governor could win if they play up their bonafides. But exactly how heavy does that weigh on individual voters choices? Polls can only tell us so much and usually voters rank social issues as one of the least important reasons they voted the way they did. The rest is left up to subjective and ideological journalists to make inferences on. Furthermore, if one wants to look at how Democratic candidates did in the South in favorable years for the party (let’s go with 2006, 2008 and 2012) the results speak for themselves.
In 2006 a total of seven Southern states had gubernatorial elections. Out of those seven states the GOP won five (TX, AL, M, SC and FL) while Democrats won Arkansas and Tennessee. In 2008 only two Southern states had elections, Missouri and North Carolina. Both went Democratic with candidates who either were pro-life (Missouri) or avoided being labelled on the issue (North Carolina). Now how about 2012? Again, in 2012 only two states in the South had elections. In North Carolina a pro-life Republican won and a pro-life Democrat won reelection in Missouri. I could also mention 2009 and 2010, years when the political environment was unfavorable to Democrats but those results speak for themselves. Not a single Democratic incumbent or challenger won a Governor’s mansion in in the South in those years.
So if Davis’s stance offers a way forward for the party it probably is to lose more but feel better ideologically. Pro-choice Democrats cannot survive in many Southern states as candidates. Voters simply do not support their stance. As for how Wendy Davis would do if she ran in TX today a recent poll has some sobering news for her and her supporters. Apparently the progressive movement does not have a lot of sway in Texas. You don’t say?