Abortion ballot measure in Arizona could drive turnout as Biden campaigns hard on reproductive rights

Democrats are banking on abortion as their saving grace in Arizona,
where President Joe Biden won by just 10,000 votes in 2020 and currently
lags Donald Trump in their rematch.

Arizona for Abortion Access, a coalition that includes the ACLU and
Planned Parenthood, submitted a stack of 800,000 signatures Wednesday
morning to get an initiative in front of voters in November.

That’s one in five registered voters.

The measure would protect access to abortion through fetal viability.
In the two years since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade,
similar ballot initiatives have bolstered Democrats in red, blue and
purple states.

Particularly after Biden’s weak debate performance last week, Arizona
Democrats hope the abortion measure will mobilize their voters and
boost their chances in crucial presidential and Senate contests that top
the ballot.

In a June poll of female Arizona voters from KFF, 60% of Democrats
said they’re more likely to vote in November with the abortion measure
on the ballot, as would 52% of independents and 37% of Republican women.

The spike is especially sharp among younger voters: 74% of women
under 30 told pollsters the ballot measure will draw them to the polls.
That’s a cohort that propelled Biden to victory in 2020.

Six states had measures on the ballot in November 2022 to protect
abortion access. The measures passed in three of those states, including
Michigan – like Arizona, a key presidential battleground.

Michigan voters enshrined a right to abortion into the state
constitution as Democrats romped to a victory that defied recent history
and most prognostications. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sailed to reelection
with a victory margin of over 10 percentage points. Democrats took
control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time in nearly
four decades. Turnout rose 4.7% from the previous midterm elections in
2018.

“The abortion ballot initiative changed the electorate in favor of
Democrats and made some of the statewide races more about abortion than
they otherwise would,” said Matt Grossmann, a political scientist at
Michigan State University.

“What we saw is people voting who normally vote only in presidential
elections…voted in the midterm election this time because the abortion
initiative was on the ballot,” he said.

Whitmer’s GOP challenger Tudor Dixon, a conservative commentator,
expressed hard-line stances on abortion. She later rued her refusal to
moderate her stance and said it left her wide open to Democratic attacks
that resonated with voters.

It’s a mistake Kari Lake appears keen to learn from in Arizona.

The likely GOP nominee for an open U.S. Senate seat, she has called
abortion the “ultimate sin.” She expressed support for enforcing an 1864
state law – shelved by the landmark ruling in 1973 protecting abortion
rights through viability – after the Supreme Court that struck down Roe
v. Wade.

When the state’s highest court ordered the 1864 ban reinstated, Lake backtracked.

“We must have exceptions for rape, incest, and threats to the life of
the mother,” she posted on X, adding that a ban without such exceptions
“is not where the people are.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego of Phoenix, unopposed for the Democratic nomination for Senate in the July 30 primary, slammed her.

“Politicians like Kari Lake have put this state in danger, put the
health of women in danger, for power, and now they’re trying to run away
from it,” he told MSNBC at the time.

Gallego has made abortion rights central to his campaign, vowing to
eliminate the filibuster to overcome resistance in the Senate to a
proposal to codify Roe.

Polling from CBS/YouGov in May showed 65% of voters in Arizona favor a
constitutional right to abortion. Gallego holds a narrow lead over
Lake, and in some polls they’re tied.

Abortion remains one of Trump’s most vulnerable issues.

Backlash to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s
Health, the case that dismantled federal protection for abortion access,
was widely seen as a key reason Democrats averted disaster in the 2022
general elections.

Instead of the red wave Republicans expected, Democrats held the GOP
to small gains in the U.S. House and actually picked up a seat in the
Senate. Historically, the president’s party suffers big setbacks in
midterms.

Democrats are campaigning relentlessly on the issue in Arizona.

Vice President Kamala Harris stumping in downtown Phoenix last week on the two-year anniversary of Dobbs, blasted Trump for naming three of the justices who overturned Roe.

She urged voters “to understand the connection between this issue and elections.”

Interior Secretary Interior Deb Haaland, Sen. Laphonza Butler,
D-Calif., and Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes have all held events
in Arizona in the past months to rally support for abortion rights.

The secretary of state’s office expects to certify Arizona’s ballot
measure in the next week. Backers needed exactly 383,923 signatures and
delivered more than twice as many.

Five other states will have similar measures on the November ballot
to codify abortion rights: Florida, Colorado, Nevada, South Dakota, and
Maryland.

Backers in three other states – Nebraska, Montana, and Arkansas – are gathering signatures or awaiting certification.

“Democrats did better in 2022 than they otherwise would have because
of the abortion issue,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the
University of California at Davis who studies reproductive rights. “It’s
definitely going to help.”

The impact of these ballot measures has varied and they are no silver bullet for Democrats.

That baseline may not be as significant as Democrats are hoping for.
2022 saw abortion-related ballot measures in red states like Kansas,
Kentucky and Montana.

In three red states in 2022, voters sided with abortion rights while also delivering victories to conservative Republicans.

Kansas and Kentucky struck down ballot measures that would have
explicitly denied any state constitutional right to abortion. In
Montana, voters rejected a measure that would define a fetus as a person
subject to state protection from the point of conception. Ziegler said a
similar dynamic could take place in Arizona.

“You could have some independents who don’t like Republicans’
positions on abortion, but who might think ‘I can just vote for this
ballot initiative, and that’ll protect abortion rights. And then I can
vote for Republicans,’” she said.

In Michigan, young voters and others who are generally disinterested
turned out to codify abortion rights. Most, said Grossmann, the Michigan
State political scientist, probably would have skipped the election,
though presidential contests draw more people to participate.

Biden’s disastrous debate performance could offset any tailwind Democrats get out of the ballot measure.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Biden is down a few more points in
Arizona” since the debate, said Miles Coleman, a political analyst for
Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “Maybe instead of being down by two or three, now
he’s down by four or five.”