The nation's largest abortion-rights group today released a poll of likely women voters in 12 battleground states that suggests presumed GOP presidential nominee John McCain could lose the support of significant numbers of independent and pro-choice Republican women—if they are educated about the Arizona senator's antiabortion voting record.
And that, the pollsters predicted, could help expected Democratic nominee Barack Obama win that "critical bloc" of swing voters come November.
"The poll shows that this issue can have real impact in a presidential election," says Al Quinlan of the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, which conducted the survey for NARAL Pro-Choice America. "A clear choice on this issue moves votes to Barack Obama. It moves the swing vote with independent women, more crossover vote with Republican women who are pro-choice, and, in Obama's case, it begins to consolidate the base by bringing home Democratic women."
The survey sets the stage for what NARAL President Nancy Keenan says will be her organization's five-month push to educate women about McCain's opposition to Roe v. Wade and his votes to limit access to birth control and to "ensure that [our] endorsed candidate, Senator Obama, becomes President-Elect Obama on November 4."
"Senator McCain has been out there a long time," Keenan said, and because there's a perception that he's a moderate maverick, "there's an assumption that he is pro-choice."
McCain has stated that Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, should be overturned. He has consistently opposed abortion, except in cases of rape and incest or when a woman's life is at risk. However, the GOP national platform does not endorse such exceptions to abortion, and McCain has not said whether, as the party's leader, he would push to include the exceptions. (Conservative evangelical leaders have bluntly warned him not to.) McCain has been endorsed in his Senate races by the National Right to Life Committee, which says that in 2005 and 2006, the Arizona senator voted in their interests 75 percent of the time.
Obama has called a woman's right to choose legal abortion a "fundamental freedom" and has gotten a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood, which supports abortion rights.
Using data from his firm's survey of 1,788 likely women voters in states including Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, Quinlan says that Obama gained 13 points among pro-choice independent women and 9 points among pro-choice Republican women once they were presented with what the pollsters called "a balanced description of the candidates' respective positions on choice."
When women surveyed were simply asked for whom they would vote if the presidential election were held today, 47 percent named Obama and 45 percent McCain, Quinlan says. But after being read the description of the candidates' positions, 53 percent said they would vote for Obama; 40 percent for McCain.
Here are the descriptions used by the pollsters in survey calls made to women between May 29 and June 8:
Obama: "Barack Obama believes that the decision to have an abortion is profoundly difficult for women and families and that these decisions are personal, between a woman, her family, her God, and her doctor, and that politicians should stay out of it. As president, Obama will oppose any constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade, and he will work to reduce unintended pregnancies through prevention and education by expanding access to birth control and sex education."
McCain: "John McCain is pro-life, and on the issue of abortion, he opposes a woman's right to choose. McCain says that, quote, 'abortion is a human tragedy,' and he believes that we must end abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade. As president, he will nominate Supreme Court judges who will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and return the issue to the states to decide."
"This shows where the race does go when this issue is actually put front and center," says Quinlan, who estimated that up to half of women voters are either "unclear or unsure" of McCain's position on abortion.
The McCain campaign did not respond to a request for comment.