The wording of the question was convoluted, but the answer was crystal clear: No. Voters in Kansas on Tuesday, in dramatic numbers and by an overwhelming margin, rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed lawmakers to ban abortion in the state.
As Republican-controlled state legislatures around the country race to outlaw the procedure in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, traditionally conservative Kansas, given the chance to directly respond at the ballot box, denied their own elected leaders’ the chance to revoke a right that has broad support across swaths of independent polling.
The rejection of the measure highlighted the increasingly stark divide between the activities of Republican state lawmakers, often in legislatures gerrymandered to effectively guarantee GOP control, and the political and policy desires of American voters. In more immediate terms, the ballot measure’s defeat – on a day of extraordinary turnout – also provides a clear indication that the desire to defend abortion rights could be a potent issue for Democrats in the coming midterm elections.
The polling, from a variety of sources, is unambiguous and consistent. Across party lines, abortion rights are popular and the Supreme Court’s ruling is not. The most recent CNN poll found that 63% of Americans disapproved – 51% “strongly” – of the court’s decision. The Kaiser Family Foundation came to a similar conclusion, with 61% of respondents to their survey saying they wanted their state to guarantee access to abortion. Only 25% wanted them to restrict it.
The backlash, and its translation to concrete political terms, could potentially influence elections in a handful of states this fall – including in liberal states like California and Vermont, where the big ticket results are close to a formality but the energy of Democrats could tip races down the ballot.
The more dramatic downstream effects could be felt in swing states like Michigan – which is embroiled in a court battle over whether a ban from 1931 should be reinstated – and Colorado, where measures addressing abortion are likely to appear on the same general election ballot as key contests for governor and US House seats.
In Kansas, there was hardly a contest to speak of. The “No” coalition – which opposed a measure that would have removed abortion rights from the state constitution – appears to be on track to win in a landslide. And it’s no low-turnout fluke. The overall vote count on the amendment eclipsed 869,000 at around 1 a.m. ET.
That figure exceeded Kansas’ general election turnout in the midterm year of 2010 and was approaching the 2014 total overnight. And overall primary turnout in the state two years ago – in the midst of a presidential campaign – clocked in at just over 636,000. In the 2018 midterm primary, the figure was lower: 457,598.
Interest in the ballot measure also heavily outweighed the other big statewide contests on Tuesday – more than doubling the total votes cast in the Republican gubernatorial primary, won by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, according to a CNN projection, with about 350,000 votes as of early Wednesday morning.
Democratic turnout was even lower – another sign that the abortion issue transcends party lines. Fewer than 250,000 voted in the party’s Senate primary and only a few thousand more punched ballots for incumbent Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who faces an uphill battle to win a second term.
President Joe Biden, in a statement released after the results became clear, piled on.
“The Supreme Court’s extreme decision to overturn Roe v. Wade put women’s health and lives at risk,” he said. “Tonight, the American people had something to say about it.”
While Kansas got their word in, millions of Americans in other states are unlikely to have a similar opportunity – at least not anytime soon. Meanwhile, Republican leaders and anti-abortion activists in several states are locked in court battles as they push to implement all manner of new restrictions or preexisting “trigger laws” over the objections of abortion rights groups, many of whom are arguing that those measures violate existing state law or constitutional protections.
How the Kansas vote resonates in those states remains to be seen. But even before Tuesday night’s thunderclap, there have been hints that even GOP heavyweights are disinclined to escalate the fight.
Conservative Govs. Ron DeSantis in Florida and Kristi Noem in South Dakota, both believed to be harboring national ambitions, praised the Supreme Court’s ruling, but have not yet pushed forward with demands from anti-abortion activists for more aggressive action – like the calling of special legislative sessions to pass more or more aggressive laws. Similar quasi-impasses exist in states like Nebraska and Iowa.
The reasoning behind those decisions has been parsed out and officials like DeSantis have pointed to existing or pending laws, but the broader trend is clear: abortion rights, now as before, are broadly popular across party lines. In the polls and, as put on show Tuesday, at them, too.