A new poll suggests that the Biden campaign should shift some of its focus toward informing voters that former President Donald Trump, his likely opponent in the 2024 election, was more responsible than they might realize for the dismantling of federal abortion protections and the implementation of anti-abortion laws over the past couple of years in GOP-managed states across the country.
The Data for Progress poll, published Monday, finds that President Joe Biden also needs to “capitalize” on the fact that voters “do not currently perceive Trump as a threat to abortion rights.”
As many statewide and local elections have demonstrated since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the summer of 2022, abortion can be a winning issue for Democrats, including in places the party is not accustomed to winning. But a large segment of the voting public appears to be unaware of the role Trump played in dismantling abortion rights, or that he may further erode remaining protections.
According to the poll, a resounding 63 percent of the U.S. public believe it’s “very likely” or at least “somewhat likely” that Republicans will try to pass a national abortion ban if they win control of Congress in the 2024 election cycle. Fewer , however, say the same thing about Trump, with only 48 percent of voters believing he will try to push such a ban if he’s reelected later this year.
The poll also shows that voters aren’t holding Trump accountable for new statewide bans, even though he appointed three of the six Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe’s federal abortion protections in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. While 34 percent of voters say Republicans are responsible for new bans and restrictions, only 24 percent fault Trump for them.
Notably, Trump has attempted to characterize himself in different ways on abortion, depending on which audience he’s speaking to. While speaking to voters in Iowa prior to that state’s GOP nominating contest, for example, he took credit for the dismantling of Roe. “For 54 years they were trying to get Roe v. Wade terminated, and I did it, and I’m proud to have done it,” Trump said at that time. “Nobody else was going to get that done but me, and we did it, and we did something that was a miracle.”
But in front of a national audience on television, Trump has taken a more nuanced approach, stating on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” in September, for example, that restrictive abortion laws some states are passing are a “terrible thing.” To be sure, Trump said so in the context of how such laws have hurt Republicans electorally. “This issue cost us dearly in the midterms, and unnecessarily,” Trump said on the program.
Going further into the past, however, Trump, during the 2016 campaign, suggested he would support a federal abortion law, including one that would punish those obtaining the procedure.
Critics have taken note of Trump’s differing approaches to the issue and have warned that he will still stake out extreme anti-abortion positions. “Trump’s ego demands he distance himself from the electorally disappointing consequences of his own actions…. While Trump continues to say the right things in private rooms with those who are thrilled with Dobbs, he’s speaking a different tune in public,” writes TIME Senior Correspondent Philip Elliot, who noted in November that Trump took a more moderate approach during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, where the primary process allowed independent voters to take part.
Others have pointed out that Trump would likely use his presidential powers, if reelected, to undo many of the executive orders Biden has issued to protect some federal abortion coverage. “What is plausible is that, returned to the White House, Donald Trump would seek to use his executive power — power that his allies are aiming to increase on his behalf — to further curtail abortion access,” wrote Guggenheim Fellow Mary Ziegler, in an op-ed for The New York Times last week. “He might seem uninterested in doing much of anything about abortion now, on the campaign trail, which is a shrewd political move … but that could well change when he is in office again.”
Highlighting Trump’s role in the rescinding of abortion rights over the past two years should be a priority for Democrats and President Biden, the report from Data for Progress advised.
As Trump waffles on the issue of abortion by taking credit for overturning Roe while also claiming to be more moderate on abortion exceptions, Democrats need to continue pushing the blame on Trump, branding him as extreme on this issue, and raising the salience of abortion rights for this election. It is imperative that voters don’t lose sight of what Trump and Republicans are trying to do: control our bodies and freedoms.