John Heilemann has a big-picture report on the Obama campaign’s shift from hope to fear. Rather than focusing on an affirmative reelection message, Obama’s strategy is to paint Mitt Romney as a composite of various nightmarish right-wingers in the hope that it will scare off independent voters and shore up the progressive base:
Though the Obamans certainly hit John McCain hard four years ago—running more negative ads than any campaign in history—what they intend to do to Romney is more savage. They will pummel him for being a vulture-vampire capitalist at Bain Capital. They will pound him for being a miserable failure as the governor of Massachusetts. They will mash him for being a water-carrier for Paul Ryan’s Social Darwinist fiscal program. They will maul him for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues that strike deep chords with the Obama coalition. “We’re gonna say, ‘Let’s be clear what he would do as president,’” Plouffe explains. “Potentially abortion will be criminalized. Women will be denied contraceptive services. He’s far right on immigration. He supports efforts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.”
I wanted to add to the comments of Jonathan and Alana regarding the new Gallup poll showing that just 41 percent of Americans now say they are pro-choice (a new low) while 50 percent identify as pro-life.
In terms of the actual number of abortions in America, the figure had dropped from a national high of more than 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.21 million today, a low not seen since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing the practice in Roe v. Wade. And as the Gallup survey suggests, America is becoming more, not less, pro-life. (A Gallup poll conducted in May 2009 found 51 percent of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion and 42 percent “pro-choice.” This was the first time a majority of U.S. adults identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question more than 15 years ago.)
What explains both the drop in the number of abortions and the shift in public attitudes?
Recent polls have shown that the Democrats’ efforts to use social issues to help demonize Republicans and mobilize support for President Obama’s re-election are flopping. The gender gap between the parties is evaporating rather than getting wider, as liberals had hoped. It is in this context that the Gallup poll on attitudes toward abortion that Alana mentioned earlier must be understood. The problem for the president is not just that a clear majority of Americans now call themselves “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice.” As Alana and Adam Serwer have noted, a close reading of the survey shows most of those polled don’t share the opinions of many in the pro-life movement. But these findings ought to inform our understanding of attitudes about social issues in general that extend beyond the narrow choice/life dichotomy at a time when the Democrats are trying desperately to gin up fear about a Republican war on women.
The point here isn’t that most Americans take an ideological approach to this issue. As Gallup points out, since the very beginning of polling about abortion, only a minority of Americans thought it should be legal under all circumstances (currently 25 percent) with a comparable number believing it should be illegal under all circumstances (currently 20 percent). The majority of Americans are in the uncertain middle, believing it ought to be legal only under some circumstances even if many of those holding such views identify with the pro-life movement. That is why a campaign geared toward polarizing the country on social issues will not help win a general election for the candidate of either major party.
The percentage of Americans identifying as “pro-choice” has been steadily decreasing in recent years, and this year is no exception. Gallup found that just 41 percent now say they are pro-choice – a record low – while 50 percent identify as pro-life.
But as Adam Serwer points out, that isn’t the whole story. The majority of Americans, 52 percent, still say that abortion should be legal “under certain circumstances,” which many pro-life activists would find unacceptable. From the Gallup survey:
Gallup’s longest-running measure of abortion views, established in 1975, asks Americans if abortion should be legal in all circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances. Since 2001, at least half of Americans have consistently chosen the middle position, saying abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, and the 52 percent saying this today is similar to the 50 percent in May 2011. The 25 percent currently wanting abortion to be legal in all cases and the 20 percent in favor of making it illegal in all cases are also similar to last year’s findings.