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Ohio Abortion Vote a Test Case for 2024
Both parties will be looking for lessons in the results of a ballot measure to amend the state’s constitution
A RECENT POLL on Ohio’s Issue 1—a ballot question in this Tuesday election that asks whether voters would approve of an amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing a right to abortion—showed the issue winning by 58 to 34 percent, with just 8 percent undecided.
But the poll, a survey of registered Ohio voters conducted last month by Baldwin Wallace University, also included a curious question that explains the “why” better than most polls do. The question was this: “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? ‘Restricting access to abortion is a form of discrimination against women.’”
Overall, 60.6 percent of the respondents said they agreed with the statement, while 34.8 percent said they disagreed. Women voters overwhelmingly agreed with the statement (70 to 27 percent); men agreed with it, although less lopsidedly (52 to 42). The partisan split is what you would expect, with Democrats largely agreeing with the statement (85 to 13) and Republicans disagreeing with it, although much less strongly (53 to 40). Most strikingly, independent voters, who made up about a quarter of the total pool of respondents, agreed with the statement by 64 to 31 percent.
In nearly all demographics—from urban to suburban to rural; across age and race—the results were similar: agreement that restricting abortion access is discriminatory.
And, again, this is Ohio, a state that has twice voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump (51-43 and 53-45). Given how long abortion has been a central issue for the Republican party, it’s a jarring reminder of how, a year and a half after Roe v. Wade was overturned, abortion remains a powerful issue in American politics.
“Americans have always been anti-government, and put that together with identity issues—now a big part of political culture, and one of the biggest identity designations being gender—so in some ways it’s not surprising that women see the abortion vote in Ohio as a discrimination issue,” said Robert Alexander, a political science professor at Ohio Northern University.
SINCE THE U.S. SUPREME COURT’S Dobbs decision overturning Roe in June 2022, six states—California, Montana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, and Vermont—have voted on protecting or expanding abortion access. Every one of those efforts has won.
But the Ohio vote is different from the rest in several ways. For one thing, Tuesday’s vote is a sort of “part two”: Earlier this year, conservatives tried to sneak through a measure that would have raised the voter threshold needed to approve a state constitutional amendment from a simple majority, as most states require, to 60 percent. Ohio Republicans wanted that measure in place to make it harder for an abortion rights constitutional amendment to pass. But it lost easily, by 57-43 percent—and most Ohio voters understood that that vote was linked to an anticipated vote on abortion in November.
“It’s not that I expect them to act all nice and friendly while they are attempting to stab people in the back,” an art teacher told me outside her polling place at the time of that earlier vote back in August. “But in this case, the feeling I am getting is that they thought most people were too dumb to figure out anything and that they could just walk all over all of us as if that is just how this world of politics works.”
This is an off-year election, so this Tuesday’s vote on Issue 1 will not turn Ohio blue (or even purple). Trump will likely still win the state in 2024, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown will likely have a hard fight retaining his Senate seat, and the state legislature will likely still be red.
But we can say that the Tuesday vote means—keeping in mind the answer to that “why” question—that the abortion issue will not be going away any time soon.
“How women vote in the 2024 election is going to be very important, and how this abortion vote goes in Ohio is going to make national leadership for both parties take notice,” Alexander told me. “Because if women feel this strongly about their health care rights in a conservative state like Ohio, then the Democrats are going to realize they can leverage this into wins for both the presidency and Congress in 2024.”
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To understand how Democrats might attempt to leverage the issue into big advantages nationally and statewide in 2024, it’s important first to remember that women voters outnumber men by lot—a 53-47 percent margin in the 2020 election, meaning that nearly 10 million more women voted for president than men did.
Think about how that skew could play out with abortion rights on the table. Trump won Florida over Biden by 3.4 percent—roughly 370,000 votes. But about 600,000 more women than men voted in Florida, and this was before the Dobbs ruling. Just getting some of those women to switch this time around would make things a lot closer.
In swing states—think Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Georgia, and Wisconsin—women coming out in favor of the Democrats more than they did in 2020 will have a measurable impact. But it doesn’t stop there. With abortion at least symbolically on the ballot in the November 2024 presidential race, states like Minnesota and Vermont may have a much tougher time going from blue to red (as Republicans hope) and states like Florida and Texas may conceivably be closer to flippable (as Democrats dream). Trump might even have to campaign in Florida and Texas, something Republicans certainly don’t want to have to do.
THE ABORTION ISSUE also cuts against Republicans in another way. As Alexander noted, there is a deep skepticism about government ingrained in the American political psyche. This is especially true for conservatives.
In this case, Republicans are saying they want more government interference—restrictions or a ban or meddling in the relationship between doctors and patients at a time of extreme sensitivity and privacy. It’s an issue which something like 60 percent of women nationwide feel is a personal healthcare matter.
Here’s one way of thinking about how this matters. Of the fifteen most populous counties in Ohio, which contained 63 percent of the state’s registered voters in 2020, Biden won all of the six biggest and Trump won all of the next nine biggest. But in this past August’s special election—which, again, the electorate knew was ultimately about abortion—the proposal endorsed by the anti-abortion side won in just three of those nine Trump counties. In the rest of the Trump counties among the biggest fifteen, the measure failed. In most cases, it wasn’t even a close call.
You can easily envision a similar flip taking place in a Trump stronghold state. Lake County, a middle-class bellwether county just east of Cleveland (with a population of about 230,000) that is normally MAGA central, is a classic example. In 2020, Lake County voted 56 to 42 percent for Trump. For the special election in Aug., Lake County voted against the Republican-backed initiative by 59 to 41 percent.
The anti-government-interference, pro-privacy position could prove effective in moving voters away from Republicans in places across the country with profiles like Lake County. Consider an op-ed published in the Columbus Dispatch last week, written by four Ohio pediatricians representing the group Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights:
What Issue 1 will do is get government out of Ohioans’ personal medical decisions and protect our and other physicians’ ability to provide appropriate treatment for patients and their families.
And that sort of summarizes things. The longstanding tension between the Republicans who were more socially conservative and those who were more libertarian was subsumed by the party’s transformation into a personality cult for Donald Trump. But the tension is still there, in the background. And if abortion is on the ballot in some swing states across the country in November 2024, the more libertarian-minded, skeptical-of-government, pro-privacy Republicans could prove pivotal to the outcome.
Let’s see how they vote in Ohio on Tuesday.
Daniel McGraw is a freelance writer and author in Lakewood, Ohio. Twitter: @danmcgraw1.