One of the biggest questions heading into the midterms is how the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision will influence voters. The decision was widely unpopular, with 62% of Americans disapproving of it, but will that be enough to stop a potential red wave in November?
A working paper by Olin Business School’s Raphael Thomadsen and Song Yao, along with Robert Zeithammer at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests the decision may not have meaningfully changed general attitudes about abortion as a policy issue, nor its impact on voter preference.
However, there is one big exception to this finding: The researchers found that women and independent voters became markedly less supportive of an anti-abortion candidate who is also against any exceptions in cases of rape, incest or the mother’s health. With dozens of states already restricting abortion without exceptions and others considering similar bans, this has the potential to be a deciding factor for races in these states, said Thomadsen, a professor of marketing.
The researchers asked study participants to weigh two hypothetical Senate candidates based on each candidate’s position on key issues, including abortion, taxes, illegal immigration, climate change, health insurance and poverty. Their findings show that among women, support of anti-abortion/no exception candidates dropped 7 percentage points post-Dobbs. Independent voters’ support for anti-abortion candidates also dropped 5.3 percentage points with the decision. Only men prioritized other issues in their decision, with support for Republican candidates rising nearly 7 percentage points.
While other factors like candidate personalities will affect actual races, the findings suggest Republicans would be better off avoiding hardline stances, while Democrats would benefit from amplifying this weakness in campaign messages, said Yao, an associate professor of marketing.
Thomadsen predicted that, given the closeness of the election polls now, control for the Senate depends on how much Democrats emphasize the issue of exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health in the last few weeks of the campaign. So far, those ads have been relegated to the back burner of most key elections. Read the full working paper on the SSRN website.
Media contact: Neil Schoenherr