Common ground efforts on culture war issues are heating up, in part,
because of election realities. The issue of abortion offers particular
Three recent polls ask voters to self-identify as pro-choice or
pro-life. The FoxNews poll of May 13th found that 49% called
themselves pro-life, 43% were pro-choice, 6% said both, and 2% were
unsure. Gallup polled on May 10th and found similar results: 51%
pro-life, 42% pro-choice, 2% mixed, and 4% unsure. A CNN poll of late
April found slightly different results: 45% pro-life, 49% pro-choice,
3% mixed, and 1% unsure.
Teasing out degrees of support, the picture is a bit more complicated.
Many American who call themselves pro-life, in fact support abortion
in some cases, such as for serious health issues for the mother, in
cases of rape, and so forth. Likewise many who call themselves
pro-choice favor limits on abortion, such as when used for child gender
selection or in late-term pregnancies. A Roper poll of June 1 found
that 20% were of the opinion that abortion should always be illegal,
24% illegal in most cases, 33% legal in most cases, 19% legal in all
cases, and 5% unsure. A Quinnipiac poll of late April has a similar
pattern with 14% arguing that it should always be illegal, 27% usually
illegal, 37% usually legal, 15% always legal, and 7% unsure. Notice
though, tellingly, that the preponderance of voters choose the middle
Looking only at the aggregate national numbers, then both political
parties need to move beyond their abortion issue base in order to win
and in order to form a governing coalition. Democrats need to keep a
bunch of pro-life voters in their tent. Conversely, if the GOP hopes
to get back into power, then it needs to start winning more pro-choice
voters. Moreover, since the far wings on this issue are not really
"switchable" than the focus must be on policies that appeal to the
middle voters on this issue. That’s why common ground efforts on
abortion and similar issues are picking up momentum.
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Let’s look at the Democrats to illustrate.
With only 45% or so of Americans self-identifying as pro-choice, the
Dems need some self-identified pro-life voters to win and govern.
Moreover, when looked at through the lens of the electoral college,
pro-life voters become even more important, inasmuch as their numbers
are not evenly dispersed across the nation but are instead concentrated
in the South, the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest, and the Mountain West.
Taking the solidly GOP South out of the calculations, this makes
pro-life voters in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Mountain West pivotal
for Democratic national election chances. And some of these,
particularly pro-life Latino Catholics and pro-life suburban women, are
proven party switchers. Arguably, some of these pro-life Latino and
pro-life suburban women from places like Pennsylvania, Indiana, and
Colorado are the most important voters in America right now.
The argument might be made that in November such pro-life voters
switched parties on other grounds–the economy, the Iraq War, Tina’s
impersonation of Sarah, or whatever. In fact, the calculation of
switchable voters will include many factors. Switchable voters are
seldom single-issue voters. Admittedly, few probably voted for Obama
solely on the determination that Democrats were best positioned to make
progress on abortion. But, if less than half of American voters
self-identify as pro-choice, then the Democrats cannot build a winning
and governing coalition without attracting and keeping some
self-identified pro-lifers. It’s a no-brainer.
Now, one more important point… The Democrats did not win these
voters over by convincing them to be more pro-choice. To the extent
that abortion mattered at all in these voters’ decisions, the Dems won
them by convincing them that Obama had room in his tent for pro-life
voters. He did that in part with assurances that win-win common ground
policies would be implemented for pragmatic progress regarding both
pro-choice and pro-life concerns.
So, common ground is hot political real estate at the moment, for both
parties. Of course, for us, the issues at stake are not about
politics. We common grounders are genuinely convinced that the way
forward on issues like abortion is to find those win-win policies that
all sides can support in order to make measurable progress in areas
stalemated by the culture wars. The fact that contemporary politics is
increasingly lending urgency to our efforts should only make our job