The economy may be the issue weighing most heavily on voters’ minds heading into the Nov. 8 midterm elections, but the culture wars are inciting voter angst, too.
Divisive topics such as abortion, critical race theory and LGBTQ rights are shaping political contests from local school board races to campaigns for governor, state legislature and Congress.
- Several states will decide the future of reproductive rights within their borders following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade last June.
- A referendum in Kentucky, if passed, would explicitly ban the right to abortion in the Bluegrass State, while voters in California, Michigan and Vermont will decide whether to amend their state constitutions to protect reproductive freedom. In Montana, voters will consider a ballot initiative declaring that an embryo or fetus is a legal person that has a right to medical care if it survives an abortion.
- Republican candidates for state school superintendent in Arizona and South Carolina are vowing to end the promotion of critical race theory, which looks at whether systems and policies perpetuate racism. Conservatives have made blocking the teaching of critical race theory their cause célèbre, even though there’s little evidence it’s actually being taught in public elementary and secondary schools.
- A ballot measure in West Virginia would give state lawmakers the power to approve, amend or reject decisions by the state board of education – a move that comes amid skirmishes across the nation over the discussion of race and LGBTQ issues as part of classroom curriculum. Critics fear approval of the ballot measure would inject more politics into public schools.
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican running for a second term, is defending a law he signed in March that forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. His Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist, vows to take politics out of schools.
What’s about to happen?
Voters will head to the polls on Tuesday to voice their opinion on several cultural issues on the ballot and decide which party will control Congress. A Republican victory would make it difficult for President Joe Biden to enact his agenda over the next two years and would give momentum to conservatives as they push issues like a federal ban on abortion.
Biden and congressional Democrats are counting on outrage over the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion to mobilize their base and drive them to the polls as they try to protect their slim majorities in the House and the Senate.
Yet poll after poll after poll has shown while abortion is a concern for many voters, the overwhelming concern remains economic issues such as jobs and inflation.
Conservative strategists, meanwhile, are hoping that unease over K-12 education will send parents to the polls. A Gallup poll taken in September showed that nearly one in four Americans are “completely dissatisfied” with the education their children are getting, while 32% expressed some dissatisfaction.
In another poll released in late October by the National Parents Union, roughly six in 10 registered voters who are also parents of schoolchildren said they are more motivated to vote this year than in past midterms. Eighty-two percent said they’re highly likely to cast ballots in the upcoming elections.
What they are saying
- “I don’t want to teach our kids to hate our country,” DeSantis said, explaining during an Oct. 24 debate with his Democratic opponent why he supported legislation to prohibit critical race theory in schools.
- In the same debate, Crist hammered DeSantis over the way he has handled discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools and his opposition to gender-affirming care for transgender youth. “You don’t have the temperament to be kind and decent to other people who don’t look like you, who don’t act like you and don’t contribute to you,” Crist said.
- An analysis on election spending released last week by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, concluded that anti-LGBTQ groups are making their final pitch to voters by funneling tens of millions of dollars into political ads and mail attacking transgender youth and spreading misinformation.
- “Across the country, extremist candidates are shamelessly using their final days on the campaign trail to advance grotesque and outrageous lies attacking and maligning LGBTQ+ people, designed to scare voters into supporting their campaigns,” said Joni Madison, the Human Rights Campaign’s interim president. “These ads are part of a coordinated effort by anti-equality candidates and their extremist allies to secure votes through fear-mongering and division.”
- “The Biden administration and the Democratic party have yet to hear of an abortion they wouldn’t support,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, which opposes abortion. “Tragically, women and their unborn babies will be the ones to suffer.”
- “The bottom line is this: If Republicans gain control of Congress and pass a nationalized ban on abortion, I will veto it,” Biden said at a Democratic Party reception in Philadelphia last Friday. “But if we elect to the Senate two more Democrats and keep control of the House, we’re going to codify Roe v. Wade in January so it’s the law of the land.”
Want to know more?
WILL GOP RALLY AROUND A 15-WEEK ABORTION BAN? Republicans debate their options
‘ALTERNATE REALITIES’: Democrats and Republicans smear each other as ‘fascists.’ Is either right?
TURNING BACK THE CLOCK: Will fights over curriculum usher in new era of segregated schools?
REPUBLICANS WANT TO WIN SCHOOL BOARDS:They’re winning in white counties by running on race.
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.