Romney Isn’t an Abortion Extremist. He’s a Weathervane.

How you look at things.
Aug. 23 2012 3:49 PM

The Abortion Weathervane

Mitt Romney isn’t an extremist. He’s a symptom of your failure to make reproductive health a voting issue.

(Continued from Page 1)

Look back at previous elections, and you’ll see the pattern. Several years ago, the National Right to Life Committee published a time line of exit polls from 1988 to 2002. For each election, the document calculated the “pro-life advantage”—the net gain for pro-life politicians (and the net loss for pro-choice politicians) based on their abortion positions. Year after year, more pro-lifers than pro-choicers made their voting decisions based on abortion. But one year is curiously absent from the time line: 1990. That was the year after the Supreme Court, in 1989, came close to overturning Roe v. Wade.

What happened in 1989? I’ve told the full story elsewhere, but here’s a summary. The court’s ruling scared pro-choice voters. Many more of them decided to make abortion a voting issue. They elected a black man governor of Virginia, which at that time was not just the cradle of the Confederacy but a reliably conservative state. That was nearly 20 years before the election of President Obama. A year later, in 1990 exit polls, the number of pro-choicers who made their voting decisions based on abortion exceeded the number of pro-lifers who did so. About 40 percent of people who voted on the issue said abortion should be legal in all cases. Thirty-two percent said it should be illegal in all cases, and the rest (which couldn’t be defined from the exit poll question) said it should be legal in some cases.

After the 1989 and 1990 elections, Republican politicians and party leaders turned tail. President George H.W. Bush dropped his annual plea to overturn Roe. When he was asked whether, in the case of his granddaughter theoretically getting pregnant, “the decision would be hers,” Bush meekly answered: “Who else’s could it be?” Vice President Dan Quayle gave a similar answer: “I respect my daughter’s decision. Others that have made a decision like that, I wish they hadn’t, but I’m not going to challenge their decision.”


Quayle was thought to be a devout pro-lifer. If the political beatings of 1989 and 1990 made him curl up in a fetal position, imagine what a pro-choice storm in 2012 would do to a weathervane like Romney.

It wouldn’t be hard to create such a storm. You don’t have to change anyone’s mind about abortion. You just have to get people who are already pro-choice to vote on the issue. If you look back at presidential exit polls from 1988 to 2000 (see page 29 of this compilation from the American Enterprise Institute), you’ll see a clear pattern. As the percentage of people who voted based on abortion goes up—7 to 9 to 12 to 14 to 33—the pro-life advantage goes down: 32 to 26 to 19 to 17 to 9. Ultimately, in the 1990 off-year election, the pro-life advantage became a pro-choice advantage. And when the advantage shifts, politicians follow.

When historians look back at this period, they’ll be amazed that we dawdled on climate change and nearly defaulted on our debt. But they’ll be equally amazed that the Republican Party, with impunity, waged an all-out war on Planned Parenthood, an organization dedicated to contraception and women’s health care. The GOP’s extremism on reproductive issues is the result of 20 years of not paying a price for it. And the insanity will continue until you make it stop.



Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your children is perfectly legal. 

Ken Burns on Why Teddy Roosevelt Would Never Get Elected in 2014

Cops Briefly Detain Django Unchained Actress Because They Thought She Was a Prostitute

Minimalist Cocktail Posters Make Mixing Drinks a Cinch

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest of jewels.


Rainbow Parties and Sex Bracelets

Where teenage sex rumors come from—and why they’re bad for parents and kids.


You Had to Be There

What we can learn from things that used to be funny.

Legendary Critic Greil Marcus Measures and Maps Rock History Through 10 Unlikely Songs

Catfish Creator Nev Schulman’s Book Is Just Like Him: Self-Deluded and Completely Infectious

Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 14 2014 2:37 PM When Abuse Is Not Abuse Don’t expect Adrian Peterson to go to prison. In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 13 2014 8:38 AM “You’re More Than Just a Number” Goucher College goes transcript-free in admissions.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
Brow Beat
Sept. 14 2014 7:10 PM Watch Michael Winslow Perform Every Part of “Whole Lotta Love” With Just His Voice
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?