We talked last week about putting ideas on the ballot. Then we got a real-world example.
Abortion was very much on the ballot when Kansas voted Tuesday on a proposal to strip abortion protections from the state constitution and give lawmakers a chance to institute bans on the procedure.
The result was a whopping rejection — a 59-41 margin in favor of keeping Kansas’ constitution as is — and a helping of hope for Democrats despairing about their party’s chances in this year’s midterm elections.
Hard to belittle their surge in enthusiasm. They’d been banking on the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade to turn out angry voters, and red-state Kansans did indeed come out in record off-year numbers.
Whether that level of voter engagement can carry into November is an entirely different story. Euphoria in politics is transitory, the glow of victory fades. Gloom and doubt are harder to budge, and there are plenty of both around.
Voting directly for abortion rights is one thing. Voting for candidates who support or oppose those rights is one step removed. Voting in a Senate contest for someone who might vote on a Supreme Court vacancy is yet another step removed. Voting based on abortion in a state where abortion has been settled one way or another is even less urgent.
And few voters are single-issue voters. In polling last month by YouGov, abortion was not the most important issue even to Democrats; it was among the top issues, but trailing health care, civil rights, civil liberties, guns, education, jobs and the economy, and climate change.
Voters react most strongly to things that are in their faces. Like the price of gas and food, and whether they feel safe. Will abortion make the shortlist on Nov. 8? Many on the left, buoyed by Kansas, think so.
When you’re looking for wind in your sails, you seize on every gust as evidence that you’re moving forward. That’s what Kansas tells them.
But sometimes, there are multiple signals and they conflict. What then?
Take Arizona, one of four states whose Republican Party has nominated 2020 election deniers to run the state’s elections and to serve as governor. And those are among scores of election deniers who triumphed in party primaries.
And then take Georgia, where Republican voters chose Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both of whom stood up to former President Donald Trump’s overturn-the-vote campaign, for second terms. But Georgians also picked the Trump-backed former footballer Herschel Walker to run for the Senate. What does that say?
Elections are as local as their boundaries. Calculations in each are unique, and polling often misses the idiosyncrasies.
Clearly, the extremes still attract in primaries, especially on the GOP side, but does the Kansas abortion vote signal the emergence of a more moderate middle on at least some issues and at least some times?
We’ll see. Election Day is three months away. A lot can happen. In the past three months, Buffalo, Uvalde, and Highland Park suffered mass shootings. Major Supreme Court rulings were released. Eight Jan. 6 committee hearings were held. Inflation worsened. Al-Qaida mastermind Ayman al-Zawahri was killed. Nancy Pelosi went to Taiwan. Monkeypox emerged. Legislation passed in Washington on burn pits, computer chips and guns, and might well pass on climate and taxes.
What does it all say? Are these headwinds, tail winds, or crosswinds? Which ones will last and what new ones will emerge?
Impossible to know even now. And now doesn’t count.
What we do know is that certainty is better than speculation, and Kansas delivered a dose of the former. Interesting, isn’t it, when you give people a real opportunity to say what they think.
Columnist Michael Dobie's opinions are his own.