In this episode, our hosts talk hope with Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart. He’s a data scientist who studies political data, and what he saw after the Dobbs decision surprised him so much that he thought he made a mistake. But no — indeed, women are registering to vote en masse, and all indications show that they’re registering to vote to protect reproductive rights. What does this mean for the November 8th midterm elections, which are only 54 days away at the time this episode goes live? Listen and find out.
All episodes begin and end with the 2017 single “Rise” by rock group Betty (www.hellobetty.com)
What we’re seeing here is women leading the way and taking it into their own hands.Tom Bonier (11:39)
In this episode:
The hosts start with what they’re pissed about (01:19)
Carol introduces our guest, Tom Bonier (07:00)
Tom talks how his data analytics in Kansas led him to looking at trends across the country (08:49)
Trends in battleground states, especially in the South (13:00)
Shifting focus to Michigan (29:45)
Engaging 58 million potential voters (33:00)
The Hosts Start by Sharing What They’re Pissed About
Carol is pissed today about the country’s failure to feed its children. Childhood poverty remains a huge problem, particularly among communities of color. The New York Times is running a series of articles on the falling rates of childhood poverty, due mostly governmental support, like the Child Tax Credit. However, that Child Tax Credit has since been revoked by the last Congress, and it’s one of the things we should all be voting for on November 8th.
Gloria finds that she is too busy to be pissed because there is just so much to do during this critical election cycle. She’s wearing her “I am a voter hat” to this podcast recording, courtesy of Michael Stars.
Every single day, Gloria is inspired to do work and make donations to various political candidates. There is a groundswell, which is encouraging news.
Betty is pissed about how nearly three months ago, the misogynist Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. That’s over 12 weeks of women in many parts of our country having no control over their bodies, of the government taking command of women’s wombs and lives, three months of medical malpractice forced on physicians, three months of pain and suffering on our fellow citizens, three months of nothing changing so women regain this basic human right: no executive orders, no effective judicial stays, no congressional legislation to stay the mayhem. Instead, we’ve got Senator Lindsey Graham entertaining a full federal ban on abortion across the country.
Sherrye is pissed about the national problem that made the front page of both the New York Times and a Memphis newspaper: physicians dealing with the ramifications of Roe v. Wade. In Wisconsin and Texas, for example, physicians are scared to act in the best interest of the pregnant person for fear of prosecution if their treatment plans interfere with the fetus. And remember, these are parents who aren’t seeking abortion care. They’re seeking medical care, and they can’t get it because of these laws. Sherrye reads a quote from Dr. Alison Haddock, chair of American College of Emergency Physicians: “We’re no longer basing our judgment on the clinical needs of women. We’re basing on what we understand the legal situation to be.”
Our guest, Tom Bonier, is pissed that his 16-year-old daughter will likely have to make her college decisions based on what health care options she would be afforded in that state. That shouldn’t be a factor in where to get an education, but for Tom’s daughter and millions of young women across the country, it has to be.
Throw Old Political Assumptions Out of the Window
Even though he’s spent almost three decades analyzing election data, Tom was surprised by the result of the Republican primary in Kansas that also included a ballot initiative that would have removed reproductive health protections in Kansas’ state constitution. Instead, people turned out in record numbers to defeat the measure and keep the protections in place.
When he analyzed the data of new voter registrants in Kansas before the Dobbs decision and after the Dobbs decision, the margin of women were registering to vote was so large that Tom assumed he’d made a mistake in his calculations.
Those numbers made Tom look at other states. Around the country, women are registering in much higher rates than they were before the Dobbs decision in almost every state. They’ve looked at 45 of the 50 states and Washington D.C., and in all but four states, there are huge numbers of women registering to vote. Those four states either have automatic voter registration or already have reproductive rights enshrined in their constitutions.
While Kansas was the biggest, Tom is also seeing trends in states that he didn’t necessarily expect. It’s not just a blue state issue, and we see that in states Alaska, Idaho, and Louisiana. In those states, there are huge gender gaps in voter registration.
Tom also sees huge upswings in states that will have critical impacts at the Senate and House. There are competitive election states where there are millions of women who want to deliver a consequence for the Dobbs decision.
Voter registration is one thing, but what about voter turnout? Looking at Georgia, there wasn’t as much of a gap in gender breakdown in new registration. This is in part because women account for a larger percent of the electorate in Georgia when compared to men, and Georgia has a relatively high rater of voter registration already. What Tom is seeing is that in Georgia, they’re already getting data on who is requesting ballots to vote by mail. So far, 60% of the mail-in ballot requests are coming from women.
We Can’t Assume Women Will Vote for Pro-Choice Candidates, But …
Even though there have been people sounding the warning call since Roe v. Wade was originally instated in 1973, most people didn’t really believe that it would ever be taken away. There was a level of denial even when the decision was leaked, and then, of course, it was as bad as anyone could have feared. Now that it has been overturned, it’s having a ramification within the Republican party. This means that the calculus has changed now.
For decades now, reproductive rights haven’t motivated voters for half a century because people assumed it was won forever. But the Dobbs decision changed everything. For some voters, other issues will be top of mind, but the question of choice will be the singular issue that gets people to the polls who wouldn’t have normally participated. Even though voter turnout was high in the midterm elections in 2018, Tom expects turnout will be even higher in 2022. The Dobbs decision has consolidated the idea that the Republican party is out of step with the American populous.
The Chance of Democrats Taking the House and the Senate
The biggest challenge at this point is the timing. The history shows that the party that isn’t in the White House tends to win in the midterm elections. However, Democratic odds are getting better every day. It’s going to come down to who turns out. But this election is unlike any other election to model from given that millions of women lost the rights to their own bodies. Polling accuracy over the past few years has left much to be desired, which again makes it hard to understand what is actually going to happen on voting day.
Positive Signs Among Pro-Choice Men
The gender gap is bigger in states where choice is more directly threatened, but there are plenty of pro-choice men, especially young men. In Texas, the expected gender gap wasn’t as large as expected, but when Tom dug into the numbers, women were indeed turning out in large numbers, but so were young men. Georgia and Texas also have two of the youngest electorates in the country, which is another explanation for potential political shifts in these key states.
Michigan Listeners: What’s on Your Ballot
Key goals in Michigan for Democrats:
- A ballot initiative to keep abortion legal
- Re-electing Governor Gretchen Whitmer
- Voting out Senator Ron Johnson
Childbearing is an Economic Issue, Which Could Help Mobilize Conservative Women
The Republican party is dealing with the ramifications of Donald Trump and the Supreme Court decisions. The fact is, Republicans are losing the core of their party, and they can’t just rely on structural advantages like gerrymandering and voter suppression. Campaigns need to communicate and win on this issue with previously Republican voters in addition to continuing to mobilize those who are registering specifically as pro-choice voters.
Engaging Potential Voters
Tom estimates a voter base of 191 million voters. But there is a potential voter base of 58 million additional voters who are not yet registered. The best way to reach these 58 million people is going to come from person-to-person interaction. Getting voters registered largely depends on getting people who are registered already talk to their friends and family. We saw this idea of local organization working on a national scale. It’s about putting everything in the context of what matters in someone’s life. That’s how you persuade folks to vote.
Listen to episode 4, where we talk with Jevin Hodge about activating young voters.
Tom Bonier is a Democratic political strategist and the C.E.O. of TargetSmart, a data and polling firm. He teaches political science at Howard University and is a member of S.E.I.U. Local 500.