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Will abortion dominate the 2022 Minnesota election?

Given the many issues besetting Minnesotans, abortion seems be just one in a large crowd of concerns.

Pro-choice protesters rallying at the Minnesota State Capitol on May 3.
Pro-choice protesters rallying at the Minnesota State Capitol on May 3.

Reports that the US Supreme Court will overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that created a right to abortion under the U.S. Constitution has led to a flurry of commentary and speculation about that likely decision’s effect on the 2022 elections. A new survey, however, raises doubts that it will be a transformative issue.

A recent SurveyUSA poll conducted for KSTP television sheds some light on the role of abortion in Minnesota’s 2022 electoral politics. The survey queried 725 state adults about their abortion opinions and how those opinions might affect their votes in November’s state elections.  The May 5 – May 10 survey, weighted by gender, age, education and home ownership to reflect the state population, has a margin of error 4.4 percent.

Fifty-one percent of Minnesota adults opted for keeping Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. The survey did not, however, ask respondents if they knew the actual content of that court decision. The key divide in the survey concerned respondents’ differing views of the proper availability of abortion procedures. Thirty percent wanted abortion always legal, 25 percent wanted abortion “permitted with some limitations,” 26 percent wanted it available only for cases of rape, incest and saving the life of the mother and 12 percent wanted it always illegal.

The major ideological and partisan divide was between those wanting abortion to be always legal and those wanting it mostly or always illegal. Fifty-two percent of Democrats and 58 percent of liberals opted for abortion being always legal. In contrast, 56 percent of Republicans and conservatives wanted it mostly or totally illegal.

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What was the presence of this “great divide” among key voter groups? A gender gap of about 7 percent existed between men and women, with men more in favor of restrictions than women.

The crucial “swing groups” in the Minnesota electorate are suburban residents and political independents. Among suburbanites, 27 percent wanted abortion always legal, the same level of support evident among rural poll respondents. Thirty-eight percent of those residing in the suburbs wanted abortion to be usually illegal. Similar percentages obtained among independents, with 27 percent opting for no limits on abortion and 42 percent preferring it to be usually illegal.

One crucial question for 2022 is how important the abortion issue looms in Minnesotans’ voting decisions. Those advocating no limits to abortion clearly have intensity on their side, with 54 percent saying the issue would be very important in their voting choices. Those who supported making abortion illegal under many or all circumstances were about 20 points less likely to say it would be very important in their 2022 voting.

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Steven Schier
The abortion issue was also less salient for 2022 voting among suburbanites and political independents. Only 26 percent of independents and 36 percent of those in suburbs said it would be very important for them when casting their 2022 ballots.

The major political opportunity for Minnesota Democrats and liberals, then, lies with stoking intensity among their base supporters about the abortion issue. Fifty-one percent of Democrats, 49 percent of liberals and an impressive 77 percent of those very liberal indicated that a candidate’s abortion position would very likely influence their vote for that candidate.

This part of the electorate, however, is always likely to turn out in considerable numbers, so it is far from clear that many additional votes will come from them in 2022 because of the abortion issue. What can come from this segment of the electorate, however, is additional volunteer activism and financial support for campaigns. Expect the state DFL to spur that activity among their intense abortion supporters.

In other parts of the Minnesota electorate, however, it is not very evident from this survey that abortion will transform the state’s 2022 electoral landscape. Countering liberal activism on this issue, 51 percent of very conservative respondents also indicate that a candidate’s position on abortion is very likely to influence their vote. The 9 percent of the sample who are very conservative adults comprise a group half again larger than the 6 percent of respondents who are very liberal.

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The issue also is far less important for those who are political independents or who reside in the suburbs – who often determine the direction of state politics. As Julie Roginsky, a national Democratic consultant recently noted about 2022 voters’ thinking about abortion, “Is this something they lose sleep over every night? No. What they do lose sleep over is, ‘I can’t fill up my gas tank, it’s really expensive. I can’t afford to send my kid to college, it’s really expensive.’ … Any voter who will vote purely based on (Roe) is an incredibly committed voter who will be coming out in the midterms, anyway.”

Roginsky’s point applies to Minnesota voters. Given the many issues besetting Minnesotans, abortion seems be just one in a large crowd of concerns. It may help Democrats’ turnout at the margins, but its influence on the overall state results, as evident in the survey’s findings, may well not extend beyond that limited effect.

Steven Schier is the Emeritus Congdon professor of Political Science at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.