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Democrats lead with abortion in 2023 election season

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(The Center Square) — As the 2023 general election nears Virginia Democrats hope to draw voters to the polls by featuring abortion and reproductive rights prominently in their campaign messaging.

“Democrats have been over performing since the Dobbs ruling was handed down,” J. Miles Coleman of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics told The Center Square.

“Every time there’s been a special legislative election for a Senate seat or a House seat – or a referendum like we saw in Ohio – the Democratic and pro-abortion rights side has almost always run ahead of what Biden received in 2020,” Coleman said.

Virginia is the only state in the South that has not imposed additional restrictions on abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe in the historic Dobbs v. Jackson ruling last summer.

Virginia Democrats, in an email to supporters earlier this year, cited a Christopher Newport University poll showing that more than 70% of Virginians were not in favor of stricter abortion laws.

Neither Coleman nor Karen Hult, chair of Virginia Tech’s Center for Public Administration and Policy, found that result surprising.

“In a state like Virginia, which is one of the most suburban states in the United States, that’s pretty consistent with what people have been saying about abortion rights – certainly while Roe v. Wade was in place but clearly after the Dobbs decision,” Hult said.

Earlier this month, House Democrats released their first statewide ad of the season, an ad about abortion.

While state Democrats’ views on abortion align more with popular opinion in the commonwealth, Coleman and Hult emphasized that in elections like these, the biggest hurdle is often simply getting people to the polls.

“In off-year elections, what’s going to drive a lot of the results is turnout. Turnout is such an important issue – who turns out, how they’re mobilized, where they turn out and things like that,” Hult said.

If Democrats want to maintain their majority in the Senate and flip the House, they might have to capture more minority votes, according to Coleman.

“In 2022, the Democrats did not do a great job turning out the minority vote, and that was true throughout the Deep South. A lot of the marginal seats in the legislature are going to be in this stretch from Virginia Beach to the Richmond area, where you have a heavy minority population,” Coleman said.

Hult thinks leading with abortion – though more so reproductive rights – is a compelling strategy in this case.

“What I think a lot of Democrats in general are working hard to do is to make sure that people first pay attention to the fact that there’s an election going on in Virginia this November as well as next November, and that these state legislative races are critical, particularly on policy issues like abortion rights,” Hult said. “To that extent, it’s a very smart move for the Democrats to go in that direction.”

A Center Square poll published yesterday found that 88% of voters support some form of legal abortion.

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