Governor McCrory’s decision to sign SB 353 dealing with new regulations of abortion clinics in North Carolina generated a great deal of controversy as pro-life and pro-choice advocates battled over the meaning of the legislation. Pro-choice women’s groups argued that this action would galvanize women into being an even more potent force for Democratic candidates in 2014, while pro-life women argued that the majority of North Carolinians supported the bill.
There is little doubt that the 2014 elections in North Carolina will be very important for Democrats and Republicans. Democrats want to win back state legislative seats lost in 2010 and 2012 to reverse the legislative victories in the last session. Republicans want to maintain their advantage in the state house and also knock off the US Senate seat currently held by Democrat Kay Hagan.
There is also little doubt that women are increasingly important in North Carolina elections. Women typically vote at a higher rate than men in the state, casting almost a half million more votes than their male counterparts in 2012. However, in the last midterm election in 2010 men outperformed women. Although 2010 may be understood as an outlier election because of the influence of the Tea Party, men also outperformed women in the 2012 state primary election, where the constitutional issue of same sex marriage was on the ballot. This demonstrates that on emotional “hot button” issues, like same sex marriage, the gender gap that is often discussed as trending even more in the favor of women, cannot always be counted on.
On the subject of SB 353, North Carolinians are opposed to the bill, although not a majority of likely voters. Recent Public Policy Polling data demonstrates that 47% oppose the bill, white 34% favor it. A slim majority of women–51%–are opposed to the bill. Other recent polls, however, , like the Elon University Poll in April show that more North Carolinians favor laws making access to abortions more difficulty, although by a slim margin (42.4%-37.1%). The Elon University poll results are more consistent with past polls that show that North Carolina continues to have a strong socially conservative base.
Obviously many women are angry at the General Assembly for the abortion vote and many other issues, such as education. In the PPP polls, 60% of women voters favored Democrats on the generic ballot question and a large majority of women were displeased with the legislature’s lack of transparency.
Women can be a force in the 2014 elections, but it would be wise for the Democrats to avoid making the races about abortion or other social issues. There may be a great deal of anger among many women about how SB 353 was passed and about other social issues, but as history tells us, Republicans are well situated to contest elections on “red meat” social issues. Democrats would be wise to make the reelection of Kay Hagan and the election of other Democratic candidates to state offices more about economic justice, education, and health than about abortion.