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The Supreme Court overturning Roe won’t boost Democrats’ chances in the midterms

In light of the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion indicating that Roe v. Wade is set to be overturned, some Democrats are optimistic that the political landscape will shift in their favor ahead of what most have anticipated will be a red-wave midterm election.

While the Supreme Court’s ruling — if and when it comes — overturning Roe v. Wade would give Democrats a cohesive midterm message after months of uncertainty, it likely will not produce the seismic shift in the political landscape that many party leaders are hoping for.

First and foremost, it is difficult to envision a scenario in which abortion supplants inflation as the top midterm issue. More than nine in 10 Americans say they are concerned, at a minimum, about inflation, and nearly one-half say they are “upset,” per a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Indeed, economic discontent is widespread, and soaring inflation — which is a very politically powerful issue — is driving deep dissatisfaction with President Biden and the Democratic Party among Republicans and independents, and is even causing some Democrats to grow wary of their own party.

Just 28% of Americans — and even fewer independents — approve of President Biden’s handling of inflation, and are almost twice as likely to trust Republicans (50%) rather than Democrats (31%) to handle it.

Given the unlikelihood that inflation fully stabilizes before the midterms, Americans will still be experiencing higher prices for goods, gas, and rent in November, and — absent a shift in circumstances, or in economic rhetoric or policy by the party in power — will vote against Democrats because of it.

But positively for Democrats, most Americans — 69%, according to a January CNN poll — do oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, and it’s clear that Republicans are on the wrong side of the national climate on abortion.

But Americans’ support for abortion is complicated and varied. Polling suggests that while most Americans support abortion rights in the first trimester, support drops off in the second and third trimesters (Roe v. Wade protects abortion up until the third trimester, or until fetal viability).

Further, if and when Roe v. Wade is overturned, changes to abortion access will certainly not be uniform, and the states where abortion access is set to be curtailed severely — and thus, where women will suffer the most — are solidly red states that Democrats are not competitive in, with the exception of Arizona and to a lesser extent Florida.

And if the Roe v. Wade decision, as President Biden and Democrats are arguing, is a tipping point that will throw into jeopardy every other decision related to the notion of privacy — i.e., the 1965 decision protecting the use of contraception by married couples — then the full effect of Roe’s repeal will not be truly known or felt until well-after the midterms.

That being said, it is reasonable to speculate that the Supreme Court’s ruling, if and when it comes, could energize the disheartened Democratic base, as well as key groups that have backed Democrats in national races since 2016, though have grown disillusioned with the party – namely, young progressives and suburban women.

Yet, even if some of these voters are galvanized, it is unlikely that it will enable Democrats to overcome Republicans’ massive voter enthusiasm advantage — especially given the adverse national environment Democrats face.

Further, considering that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court in 2018 actually ended up helping Republicans in the Senate — rather than hurting them, as many Democrats assumed it would — it is not unreasonable to expect that the Supreme Court’s decision could also increase turnout among Republicans.

In addition, there is a real chance that the ruling on Roe v. Wade ends up backfiring on Democrats, even though public opinion vis-à-vis abortion is largely on their side.

The release of the draft opinion has sparked fresh calls among progressives to deploy the nuclear option of ending the Senate filibuster, which they argue would allow Democrats to pass legislation codifying Roe v. Wade as the law of the land with a simple majority vote.

Beyond the filibuster being an important rule that ensures a degree of bipartisanship in the system, Democrats repealing the filibuster — or even floating it — would be the worst political and practical move they could make.

Politically, talk of killing the filibuster shifts the national conversation away from Republicans being anti-choice to Democrats being anti-bipartisanship and anti-institutions, and also helps the GOP further energize its already enthusiastic base.

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