Kansas voters choose to keep abortion legal.


On Tuesday, Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment this would have allowed the legislator to restrict the right to abortion. As the first state to vote on abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, Kansas caught the attention of a national and international spectators.

How did opponents of the amendment win? And what does this mean for party agendas and electoral prospects in the future?

With relatively few competitive races, primary elections in Kansas tend to be sleepy affairs. Not this time.

Kansans voted to protect abortion rights. Why?

The figure below compares the level of voter turnout by county (along the X axis, with higher turnout on the right) against the percentage of voters in each county voting against the amendment (along the Y axis). Counties voting to protect abortion rights are higher on the Y axis, and counties voting to restrict abortion rights are lower on the axis. Each county is represented in proportion to its population. The data for the figure comes from the Kansas Secretary of State website.

For reference, the figure includes the average voter turnout across Kansas counties in the 2018 primary — a turnout of just 17%. In the 2022 primary, by contrast, turnout in all but three of Kansas’ 105 counties exceeded the 2018 benchmark.

Notably, turnout was exceptionally high whether voters in the county as a whole supported or opposed the amendment. But turnout was highest in the least populated counties. By contrast, the most influential votes came from counties opposing the amendment (those above the 50% horizontal line in the figure), which were also the most populous.

These results go beyond partisanship

Counties voting to reject the amendment tended to be reliable Democratic regions. But party membership alone cannot explain the outcome. Even in traditionally Republican counties, more voters rejected the amendment than would be expected from partisan behavior alone. Polls on the issue were sparse, but by mid-July Co/efficient survey showed that nearly 20% of Republicans intended to reject the amendment.

This trend was largely confirmed: on average, counties voted “no” to the amendment by a margin of 9 percentage points more than they voted for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Laura Kelly. , in 2018. In addition, the “no” vote obtained almost 20 percentage points. percentage points more per county than Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in 2016 and 2020, respectively. Here’s an example – while Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump won conservative Ellis County with more than 70% of the vote in 2016 and 2020, support for the amendment (“yes” votes) in the county peaked at less than 60%.

In many states with anti-abortion laws, majorities support abortion rights

Kansas state lawmakers drafted the “Value Them Both” amendment after a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling who argued that the right to abortion was protected by the state constitution. But to amend the Kansas Constitution, a supermajority of both houses of the Kansas Legislature must first pass the amendment and send it to voters for their approval.

The first attempt was in February 2020, but he fell 4 shy voices of the necessary supermajority in the Kansas House of Representatives. After the 2020 election, which saw the Republican Party consolidate its influence on the issue of abortion, and the replacement of recalcitrant Republicans, lawmakers proposed a similar vote in 2021, on the current government. Laura Kelly’s veto.

To increase the chances of voters supporting the amendment, the state legislature voted to bring the issue to the public in the primary elections, rather than during legislative elections, as is customary. Turnout in Kansas primary elections is typically quite low (less than 20%) and largely dominated by Republican voters — in fact, 82% of voters in the 2018 primaries were Republican. Thus, at the beginning of the summer, everything seemed to be on track for the amendment to be adopted.

Then the Supreme Court reversed Roe vs. Wade.

Voter registration has surged, especially in womenafter the leak Dobbs decision and its publication. The money from out of state paid to match the already well funded “Value Them Both” organization. And “vote no” signs — which used to be fairly rare in most neighborhoods — have become as ubiquitous as “Value Them Both” signs.

Without the intervention Dobbs decision — boosting Democratic turnout, perhaps shifting the opinions of GOP voters, and generating more interest among voters — the amendment likely would have passed fairly easily. The fortuitous moment for abortion-rights supporters dealt a blow to the anti-abortion movement in Kansas and beyond.

Throughout the country, the Kansas results lifted Democrats’ morale – encouraging candidates to emphasize the protection of abortion rights in their midterm election platforms in the hope of attracting greater support this fall. Given President Biden report approval ratings and mixed indicators about economythe news is especially welcome for Democrats trying to find a winning message with voters.

Half of Americans support abortion on demand

Partisan contests aside, the Kansas results indicate what to expect when other states vote on abortion rights in November. Kentucky votes on a similar measurefor example, while Michigan voters decide whether the state should expand and protect access to abortion.

While each state’s context is different, they were all Trump-friendly states, based on the results of the 2020 presidential election. abortion does not necessarily dovetail perfectly with the results of presidential elections. Could the Kansas results temper state GOP lawmakers’ support for near-total abortion bans? We will find out soon enough.

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Nathaniel Birkhead is associate professor of political science at Kansas State University and co-author of “Congress Inside Out: Repeals from Reconstruction to the Present(University of Chicago Press, 2020). Find him on Twitter @Nate_Birkhead.


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