After Republicans swept the midterm elections on Tuesday, conservatives triumphantly declared the death of Democrats' strategy to appeal to women voters, pointing to the fact that Democrats appear to have lost ground among women voters between 2012 and 2014.
"The bottom has fallen out of the abortion-centered ‘war on women’ strategy," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. "Why is that? Women just don’t agree with the shrinking ranks of the feminist left like EMILY’s List and NARAL that unlimited abortion is the great liberator for women."
But women's rights groups have come to the opposite conclusion. Democrats usually do not fare as well in midterm election years as they do in presidential election years due to a significant decrease in voter turnout among single women and young and minority voters. But comparing 2014 to the last midterm election in 2010 -- a more "apples to apples" comparison -- Democrats have actually gained 6 points with women voters.
An analysis of Tuesdays' exit polls by Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of the family planning provider, shows that Democrats actually lost women by 1 point in 2010. But this year, 52 percent of women voted for Democrats, compared to 47 percent voting for Republicans. Women of color, specifically, showed strong support for Democrats this year, with 91 percent of black women and 67 percent of Latinas favoring Democrats.
Men, meanwhile, preferred Republicans by the same 14-point margin in 2010 and 2014, suggesting that Democrats have managed to improve their performance among women from the last midterm election without losing any ground among men.
The election proved "that even in a Republican wave election, women will favor the candidates who better support their health care priorities," said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of PPAF.
Further proof that reproductive rights groups appear to be winning the overall debate, NARAL Pro-Choice America pointed out in a memo last week, is that many of the Republican candidates who won on Tuesday only did so after moderating their positions on abortion and birth control. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), for instance, who has previously indicated his opposition to all legal abortion without exceptions, spoke directly into the camera and told Wisconsin women that an anti-abortion bill he signed "leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor."
"In race after race, we’ve seen these candidates run from, obfuscate, and flat-out lie about the energy they have put into trying to move their anti-choice agenda," said NARAL president Ilyse Hogue.
Combined, Republicans candidates spent more than $32 million on ads that mention women’s health, abortion or women’s rights, almost all of which "declared their support for women's health care analysis," the Planned Parenthood memo notes. That's almost as much as all campaigns and outside groups spent on such ads in the 2012 presidential cycle.
And while a third of voters who support abortion rights ended up voting for anti-abortion Republicans on Tuesday, when they were faced directly with anti-abortion ballot measures, a majority rejected them. Voters in Colorado and North Dakota strongly rejected two fetal personhood measures on the ballot.
The takeaway, Laguens said, is that the country leans toward supporting legal abortion, and Republican leadership should reflect that.
"These voters will expect their elected officials to govern as moderates, and keep the government out of women’s personal health care decisions," she said.