Don’t Run from Pro-Life Positions
Shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision, many Republicans told pro-life conservatives that the time for fighting against the tide of abortion was over, and that we just had to accept it as a fact of life and move on. Fortunately, conservatives of that era and since have not listened to that galactically bad advice and the country is more pro-life than it’s ever been. Even now, many “conservatives” and some libertarians have suggested that it’s time for pro-life Republicans to get off of their soapbox and drop the issue.
Does pro-life messaging work as a wedge issue? To find out, we conducted a randomized-controlled experiment testing three different pro-life radio ads attacking Davis.
I want to belabor this point — we didn’t ask voters what they thought of the ads, which is what standard message testing does. People are terrible at introspection and self-prediction. Rather, we observed how the ad influenced their likelihood of supporting Abbott or Davis compared to the placebo-control group. We ran a randomized-controlled experiment, just like a blind clinical drug trial.
We found something remarkable. The best targets for pro-life messaging were Democratic-leaning women, young voters and Hispanic voters. Exposure to just one pro-life video ad shifted Democratic-leaning women by 10 points away from Davis and toward Abbott.
Moreover, voters aged 18 to 34 shifted about 8 points, and Hispanic voters shifted about 13 net points from Davis to Abbott. Those were staggering results for these demographic groups on this issue. Of course, it wasn’t all positive: these same ads caused a backlash among white men.
Using abortion as a wedge issue worked spectacularly—and counterintuitively—well with some voters, a finding that confirmed by similar experiments in the lab and field which we’ve conducted in five states, and nationally across a range of elections.
That’s right folks. Empirical data, tested in the field, shows that emphasizing pro-life issues in competitive races helps move the dial toward Republican candidates in demographic groups that Republican candidates have struggled to attract in recent elections.
Here in Maryland, we saw a reverse type of test. When surrogates for Anthony Brown launched an all out assault on Larry Hogan and his perceived “extremism” on issues of life, the results what weren’t what they bargained for. Lukewarm response to the attacks, combined that with an effective response from the Hogan Campaign, including Governor Hogan’s daughter Jaymi Sterling (who proved herself to be an excellent spokeswoman for conservative women), rendered the attacks virtually meaningless, if not counterproductive.
In these two examples, we have seen how pro-life issues can play statewide in two drastically different states. In conservative Texas and in liberal Maryland, both races trended towards the more pro-life candidate based on TV ads that ran in each race. The Texas race was certainly more attuned to life issues, given the fact that abortion-champion Wendy Davis was being paraded around the country as a champion of the abortion industry (at least until she lost by 20 points and underperformed almost every Democratic gubernatorial candidate since Reconstruction). In Maryland, it would be foolish to say that the campaign turned on the Brown camp’s vitriolic attack on Hogan, especially given the focus on economic and leadership issues that were the focus of the campaign. But it did not hurt, which in a state like Maryland is an amazing thing. And maybe it’s why Maryland Democrats haven’t really gone out of their way to embrace their “allies” at Planned Parenthood recently.
The takeaway from both of these examples, as well as the outrage over the horrors of the barbaric activities by Planned Parenthood, is the fact that conservatives should not run away from pro-life stances, but embrace them. Talk about the sanctity of life, talk about the need to product our most vulnerable people, talk about what the abortion industry is actually doing. So often, Republicans are afraid to embrace their pro-life stances because of potential electoral consequences. Yeah, that might happen if you are saying stupid things like Todd Akin did in Missouri. But that’s not the way one should approach life issues. The first reason of course, is that pro-life conservatives should have the courage of their convictions and say that they are pro-life conservatives. But also because, no matter how surprising it is, pro-life conservatives are very competitive when discussing life issues against pro-abortion Democrats.
Be not afraid of embracing your pro-life positions. As Ronald Reagan said, we must be “raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people”. And it’s clear the issue of abortion is troubling many, many people.