On Wednesday, Marquette Law School released a new poll that shows Democrat Mandela Barnes leading incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson by seven points in a critical Wisconsin race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate. The 51-44 lead is a 5-point improvement for Barnes, currently Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor, compared to polling from back in June.
The poll comes one day after a surprise University of North Florida poll showing Democratic Rep. Val Demings leading sitting Republican Sen. Marco Rubio 48-44 in a Senate race many have assumed will go to the incumbent. Another poll released on Tuesday had Lt. Gov. John Fetterman leading Mehmet Oz by 16 points in yet another Senate race for a seat currently controlled by Republicans. All this polling comes on the heels of a broader trend in favor of Democrats: They’ve recently gone from looking like underdogs in the race to retain control of the Senate to being the 63 percent favorites in FiveThirtyEight’s Senate model.
While there are reasons to be skeptical of such favorable polling—especially given the failures of polls that overestimated Democratic chances in 2016 and 2020—it is in line with other recent trends showing Democrats moving even with—or even slightly ahead of—Republicans in the generic ballot for who the public favors to control Congress. It is also in line with a pair of recent House special elections where Democrats lost but vastly outperformed expected outcomes based on the 2020 presidential result.
Plus, this has all happened despite President Joe Biden’s abysmal approval ratings, which have, ticked up just a few points to about 40 percent approval. So, what explains the apparent shift? One highly plausible explanation for Democrats’ polling improvement can be found in the responses to additional questions included in a number of these latest polls: Democratic and Independent voters appear steamed over the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade and end constitutional protections for reproductive health care.
In the Wisconsin poll from Marquette Law School, for instance, 55 percent of voters said they were “very concerned” about abortion and 25 percent said they were “somewhat concerned.” In that same poll, 60 percent of voters opposed the Supreme Court’s decision to end the constitutional right and overturn Roe, with a full 62 percent of Independents opposing it. The poll also showed that 65 percent of Wisconsin voters thought abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to just 58 percent in the same survey in June before Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was decided.
These trends are in line with other recent polls. In Tuesday’s favorable University of North Florida poll result for Demings, a full 51 percent of respondents said that Dobbs made them more likely to vote in November. This phenomenon was especially pronounced among Democrats, with 78 percent saying the decision made them more likely to vote in November. Further, 71 percent of Florida voters say they oppose a total abortion ban. “Without the protections of Roe, the likelihood of a strict or outright ban on abortion being introduced in Florida increases dramatically, and this looks to be mobilizing Democrats to the polls,” said Michael Binder, the faculty director of the research lab that conducted the poll.
This matches the nationwide trends. In a recent Fox News poll that had Democrats and Republicans tied 41-41 in the generic ballot, 55 percent disapproved of the Supreme Court’s job performance and 60 percent disapproved of the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. In that same poll, there has also been a significant shift among women towards Democrats since May.
Finally, another poll released this week showed that Latino voters in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania considered abortion to be a top-5 issue for the first time ever. In that poll, conducted by two Latino civil rights organizations, 70 percent of respondents said abortion should be legal and Democrats held a 2-to-1 advantage over Republicans in the generic ballot.
Will any of this polling actually matter when voters go to the polls in November, with inflation still topping polls as their number one concern and with Biden’s numbers seemingly remaining in the toilet? There’s one more reason for Democrats to be hopeful, connected to Kansas’ overwhelming vote to keep abortion legal in the state earlier this month. According to CEO of data firm TargetSmart, Tom Bonier, new women registering to vote outnumbered new men registering from the day the court released the decision in Dobbs up to the special election by a whopping 40 percent. According to Bonier, a similar though slightly less pronounced “registration gap” is being seen in critical swing states, such as Wisconsin (17 percent more women than men newly registered), Pennsylvania (12 percent gap), Ohio (11 percent gap), North Carolina (7 percent gap), Georgia (6 percent gap), and Florida (5 percent gap).
It seems that if Democrats have a stronger than expected result in November, they will have women voters angry at the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs to thank.