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Abortion is a key motivator for US voters in midterm elections, new survey finds

<i>Sarah Silbiger/CNN</i><br/>Abortion rights activists participate in an impromptu demonstration outside of the the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington
Sarah Silbiger/CNN
Abortion rights activists participate in an impromptu demonstration outside of the the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington

By Deidre McPhillips, CNN

About half of registered voters in the United States say they are more motivated to vote in next month’s midterm elections than they were in previous elections — and abortion is a key issue driving that motivation, according to new survey data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Exactly 50% of US voters now say that the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has made them more motivated to vote this year, up 7 percentage points from July, when the same question was asked just a few weeks after the ruling.

After the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization removed the federal right to abortion, some states moved to make local laws more restrictive. Voters in states with full abortion bans were more likely to say that those laws were making them more motivated to vote than in prior elections, according to the KFF survey.

Abortion is on the ballot next month in at least four states, including California, where voters will be asked whether the right to an abortion should be enshrined in the state constitution, and Kentucky, where legislators have proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would prohibit state protection of the right to an abortion.

Many gubernatorial candidates, as well as those running for positions in the US Congress and local legislatures, have made strong claims about abortion rights, too.

Women are especially motivated by abortion rights, the new survey found: About 3 in 5 women ages 18 to 59 who say they are more likely to head to the polls next month cite the Supreme Court decision as a motivator.

For the past few decades, women have been more likely than men to turn out to vote — in both presidential and midterm elections, according to data from the US Census Bureau. But an analysis by the Pew Research Center found that “the gender gap in the 2020 election was narrower than it had been in 2016,” in part because of gains former President Donald Trump made among women.

“With a Democrat in the White House, Republicans start with an advantage in this year’s midterm, especially on issues such as gas prices and crime, but their efforts to ban and criminalize abortion are backfiring on them politically, even in red states,” said Drew Altman, president and chief executive officer of KFF. “Whether this motivates enough voters to hit the polls and change the outcome remains to be seen.”

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to cite the Supreme Court decision as a motivator to vote in next month’s election, but majorities of both parties oppose some laws that would restrict abortions, according to the KFF survey.

About two-thirds of Republicans oppose laws that prohibit abortions in case of rape or incest (70%), allow private citizens to sue people who assist with abortion (65%) or make it a crime for women to get an abortion that would lead to fines or prison time (64%). About nine in 10 Democrats oppose the same laws.

The divide is starker when it comes to opinions of laws that would prohibit abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected. More than 8 out of 10 Democrats say they would oppose this, compared with about a third of Republicans.

Overall, nearly 9 out of 10 voters say that a candidate’s positions on issues they care about is a major factor in making a decision on who to vote for. The economy is the top issue for Republicans, and abortion is the top issue for Democrats.

Separately, the KFF survey found that most voters were not aware of the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in August. But most voters support some of the new law’s provisions, including limiting out-of-pocket drug costs and insulin costs for people who are on Medicare.

The findings from the survey are based on a nationally representative sample of about 1,500 adults who were surveyed in mid-September.

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