Gas prices and abortion rights could be the perfect storm for Democrats

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Democrats weren’t supposed to feel that way about the midterm elections.

Not only did they face the historic strong backlash against the president’s party in their first midterm election – a fate the last two presidents have suffered and George W. Bush only avoided in the day before 9/11 – but they were also dragged down by President Joe Biden, whose approval rating fell below 40%. Last fall, Republicans won the top three state offices in Virginia, a state Biden had won just a year earlier, and nearly caused an upset in New Jersey, a Democratic haven.

But something has changed. A more recent wave of special elections has raised Democratic hopes. The obvious reason is the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, triggering restrictive anti-abortion laws nationwide and reactive referendums in states like Kansas and Michigan.

But there is another story to tell. The combination of the peak in gasoline prices and the Dobbs decision falling at almost the same time “synchronized in the most optimal way imaginable for Democrats,” Republican lobbyist Liam Donovan told Grid.

That gas prices, presidential approval, and where Democrats will stand midterm in 2022 are all linked should come as no surprise. There is a long historical record showing that high gas prices can lower presidential approval, and lower presidential approval is associated with greater medium-term losses. But not all first halves of a presidential term feature an event that shifts the political world on its axis – and does so on the terms of the party out of power, leaving them to champion massive change in the status quo while struggling at the same time. for a majority.

Lower gas prices ‘leave Republicans in a weird place where they don’t have the same cudgels,’ Donovan said, while Dobbs decision means ‘they’re on their heels in other ways “.

The numbers that have improved for Democrats

Gas prices peaked on June 13 at just over $5, according to the Energy Information Administration. Since then, they’ve fallen about a quarter to $3.75, and while Americans are certainly not happy with the economy, there are signs that they’re a bit more optimistic, or at least not. also worried.

In June, 40% of people polled told Gallup that something related to the economy was the most important issue facing the country, with around half of those people specifically mentioning gas prices or the cost of life. In May, it was 37% and in April, 39%. In July, the most recent month in which Gallup released this data, the share fell to 35%. And more recent data shows that expectations for future inflation have declined and people’s perception of the economy has improved.

These trends were confirmed on the electoral map in a series of special elections following the Dobbs decision and falling gas prices where Democrats outperformed, including winning a Trump voting seat in the Hudson River Valley, overturning the Alaska State House seat, and significantly better performance than Biden in expected losses in Western New York, Nebraska and Minnesota. Biden’s approval now sits at nearly 43%, according to FiveThirtyEight, after floundering below 40% from mid-June to early August. And Democrats’ poll on the generic Congressional ballot fell 2.5 points below Republicans to a 1-point lead.

Enter Dobbs

The country’s rightward shift on abortion policy has put Republicans on the defensive, caught between maximalist anti-abortion stances and a public opinion on abortion that, while ambivalent, tends to support certain legal protections. . The Supreme Court’s decision also appears to have boosted Democratic voters, especially in a low turnout special election, and could fuel a surprisingly robust midterm performance, including retaining the Senate 50-50.

Dobbs was, indeed, a massive political victory delivered by the party out of power. If decisive voters in a midterm election want to “balance” the political advances made in the past two years, Republicans may now be faced with a situation where they have won a massive political victory and provoked backlash. when they were in the minority in Congress. That the most striking and landslide election victory for abortion rights since Dobbs was a literal defense of Kansas’ relatively restrictive status quo on legalized abortion only adds credence to this theory – big changes from what prevailed before Dobbs mean electoral risk for anti-abortion politicians.

“A fall in inflation and in energy prices in particular reduces the importance of the problem. This drop creates space for the election to be about abortion and, in particular, highlights how the Republican Party wants to change the status quo,” Ethan Winter, senior analyst at the left-wing organization, told Grid. Data for Progress.

The Dobbs decision – which was passed by the court’s conservatives – also disrupts a typical theory for why the ruling party does poorly mid-term, that the public wants to “balance” the political advances made by the ruling party.

But all of that hardly means Democrats will cling to Congress. On the one hand, while the special election certainly says something about the changing political environment over the past two months, Republicans can retake the House even if the national vote in the House is evenly split, thanks to the redistricting and retirements. Nor is it clear that the electorate running in the special election is the same as that running in the general election in November.

“Special elections are low turnout events, so we have to be careful in interpreting those results,” Winter said. “As voter turnout increases, it’s likely that every marginal voter added will care more about inflation than abortion.”

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for writing this article.

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