Georgia Democrats hoping the battle over abortion rights will upend the midterm elections got mixed news from an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released this week.
Only a handful of Georgians — 5% — listed abortion as their top issue in the election. And more than half of likely voters indicated that the political divide over abortion won‘t influence their decisions to cast their ballots in November.
But the poll also indicated that nearly half of respondents said they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to protect access to abortion. That includes about half of women and 90% of Democrats.
The poll, conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Policy and International Affairs, also found that more than 50% of respondents support student debt relief and a major climate and spending package. Both were key initiatives of President Joe Biden, but his approval remains underwater.
A unifying message
On abortion, the poll tests the conventional political wisdom stemming from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June overturning Roe v. Wade.
That ruling was widely viewed as a political boon for Democrats, and it gave the party’s candidates a unifying message opposing new abortion restrictions heading into midterm elections where they were being blamed for inflation and the nation’s other economic woes.
In Georgia, the high court’s decision paved the way for the state’s Republican-backed anti-abortion law to take effect, meaning most abortions are now illegal after six weeks.
The AJC poll found that, for a significant bloc of Georgia voters, the decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson case remains a key mobilizer. About 44% of likely voters said it made them “more motivated” to vote in the midterm, including roughly half of women, three-quarters of Democrats and one-third of independents.
“I think across the country, especially for women ... of course it will be the Dobbs decision,” former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, now a White House aide, said when asked last week what would motivate voters.
But it isn’t only women. Leon Havenga said restoring abortion rights is among his top priorities.
“It’s just unconscionable that leaders can tell women what to do with their body,” the Gwinnett County resident said.
Havenga is among the 48% of poll respondents who said they are more likely to back a candidate who would support abortion rights. That’s up from 42% who said they would do so in the AJC’s poll conducted in July, just after the Supreme Court’s decision.
In the new poll, 25% of likely voters said they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to limit abortion. That includes 47% of Republicans and about one-quarter of men.
“I am pro-life. I do not believe in killing unborn babies. I don’t think we can have a civilization and do that,” said Judith Roberts, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Fayette County. “It’s my bottom line.”
A wash for Democrats?
But the support for abortion rights reflected in the poll doesn’t seem to be moving the needle for Georgia Democrats.
With the exception of incumbent Raphael Warnock — who is tied with Republican Herschel Walker in the race for U.S. Senate — Democrats are trailing their GOP opponents in races for statewide seats. Gov. Brian Kemp, who championed the state’s restrictive anti-abortion bill, leads Stacey Abrams by 8 percentage points, the AJC poll found.
Some of those surveyed were skeptical a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion could do much on abortion. Janusz Maciuba, a 69-year-old retired educator in DeKalb County, said he planned to vote for Abrams hoping she can slow down some anti-abortion legislation.
“She can be in charge. She can veto things. But if the Legislature doesn’t change, I think she’s going to be somewhat ineffective,” he said.
The poll was conducted Sept. 5-16 and has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points. Like other recent surveys, the poll indicates that financial issues remain the most pressing concern of many Georgia voters.
Some 36% of likely voters listed cost of living, jobs and the economy as the most important issue facing the nation. That was followed by 20% of voters who said “threats to democracy” was the top concern. About 14% listed immigration and border security.
The poll found that Biden’s policies are popular, but the Democratic president is not.
Just 37% approve of Biden’s performance in office, statistically unchanged since the last AJC poll in July. Yet nearly 54% of likely voters support his initiative to erase up to $20,000 in student loan debt for some borrowers; a little more than 51% back a major climate and tax package approved last month.
Both are key parts of Biden’s agenda. He forgave student loans through executive order and pushed hard for the package of climate and spending measures, which passed along a Democratic party-line vote.
Still, 51% of poll respondents said they would prefer a Republican-controlled Congress while 43% chose Democrats.
Staff writer Zachary Hansen contributed to this article.