What Can the Pro-Life Movement Learn From Election 2012?

Politics   |   Marjorie Dannenfelser   |   Nov 29, 2012   |   4:39PM   |   Washington, DC

There is no sugarcoating it: The re-election of the most pro-abortion president in our nation’s history was an incredible blow to our movement and to the fate of countless innocent unborn babies and vulnerable women.  Despite the fact that our movement enjoys growing support from almost all demographics, the gap between public opinion and electoral office was not bridged at the ballot box.

The SBA List has spent the last week looking at exit polling data and historical data to figure out the lessons to be learned. By looking at the hard facts we will be able to forge a pathway to victory in the next presidential election and, more immediately important, during the 2013 state races and 2014 midterms.

Did Life Lose on Election Day?

The short answer is a resounding no. Life was not on the ballot. Instead, the GOP ran a campaign focused singularly on the economy. This strategy did not work. While Romney beat Obama by four points among the 59 percent of voters who said the economy was their biggest concern, that slim margin was quickly lost as Obama won voters who cited health care (18% of the electorate) by an incredible 59-point margin, and also lost those who cited foreign policy by a 23-point margin. When voters were asked what their biggest concern was from an economic standpoint, Obama won or tied 3 out of the 4 options: Unemployment, housing market, rising prices. Romney only won those voters who cited taxes.

These results are an invitation to the Republican Party to return to fundamentals. The fundamentals are what Ronald Reagan called the three legs of the policy stool — social policy, economic policy, and foreign policy — fully embracing each one to build a winning coalition.

What about the “War on Women”?

You cannot win a war in which you don’t engage. The “War on Women” narrative pushed by Democratic candidates, operatives, and the pro-abortion lobby went unanswered by major GOP candidates nationwide and their Super PAC allies who controlled the bulk of the spending. This created a de-facto “truce” on social issues. Anytime a GOP candidate was asked to respond to the “War on Women” claims made by the other side, they ducked for cover and had a canned response simply saying that the Obama economy was bad for women. This weak answer simply emboldened the other side, knowing that the Republicans lacked a serious response and ability to go on offense.

This was a strategic mistake, and one that the SBA List worked hard to combat, both in internal conversations with campaigns, and externally with our paid and earned media efforts. We combated this by urging the Romney campaign and allies to engage the alleged “War on Women” by pointing out President Obama’s extreme policies on abortion and religious liberty – honing in on the issues that 70-80% of Americans agree with us on, such as Obama’s refusal to protect babies who survive abortions, his embrace of late-term, partial-birth abortion, his opposition to a ban on sex-selective abortions, his expansion of taxpayer funding of abortion, and most especially his insistence that religious institutions and business owners of conscience pay for coverage of abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations for all their employees.

We led by example by pounding the message of Obama’s abortion extremism in every way possible. We created a hard-hitting, 60-second TV ad featuring abortion survivor Melissa Ohden who exposed Obama’s refusal to protect babies born alive after a failed abortion. Thanks to the generosity of donors, we put over $1 million behind this ad in strategic battleground media markets. The ad reached even more voters as it went viral online, garnering over 524,000 views on YouTube alone. We pounded our message of Obama’s abortion extremism through earned media in battleground states by going on an ambitious five-state, 10-day, 30-stop bus tour. And of course, we pounded this message home in our online campaigns, voter contact mail, TV ads, radio ads, field offices, and robo-calls.

We deployed every resource we had to make an impact on the national narrative. The GOP establishment and allied Super PACs simply refused to latch on to our message in any way, shape, or form, and again, focused singularly on economic issues.

Despite this challenge, at the end of the day, President Obama actually did two percentage points worse among women in 2012 than he did in 2008, and lost support even among single women. And while there was a sizeable “gender gap,” can be attributed to more men turning away from Obama, not more women voting for Obama. And more importantly, the gender gap is something that historically exists in every election. Political scientist Larry Sabato put it best: “For at least 40 years with only one exception, women have been more supportive of Democratic candidates than men, and men have been more supportive of Republicans.” Polling also consistently shows that this isn’t due to the abortion stance taken by Republicans – many polls show that women are just as likely to identify as pro-life as men are, and some polls on specific policy questions – such as sex-selection abortion – show women as more supportive than men. Instead, polling shows women typically break from men on issues such as health care, war, and education.

What did we learn from the Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock Rape Comments?

The comments made by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock on rape and abortion tell us two things:

1)      Our candidates must be better trained to articulate their pro-life position.

2)      We need more women candidates.

The SBA List is fundamentally changing the way we endorse candidates by making sure they are thoroughly trained in pro-life messaging before they receive our endorsement, receive bundling support, and benefit from our independent expenditures. This will be much more than simply sending over talking points. We will physically go to candidates, we will sit down with them, and we will drill them with our messaging.

Secondly, the SBA List will put a renewed emphasis on training and recruiting women candidates, a central part of our mission. Rather than waiting for pro-life women candidates to announce they’re running for office to trigger our potential involvement, we will go out and find them ourselves, working with our growing number of allies on the ground, in compatible organizations, and in state legislatures.

Do Pro-Life Voters Still Provide Electoral Advantage over Pro-Choice Voters?

Yes. Without a doubt, Americans are equally divided when identifying between “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” Where the distinction comes electorally is when voters are asked whether the issue of abortion actually has an effect on the way they vote. Gallup has explored this in every presidential election year since 1996, and each time the results show that pro-life presidential candidates enjoy at least a 2-point net advantage over the pro-choice candidate based on abortion.

Below are two Gallup charts illustrating this:






Gallup had this to say (emphasis added):

Gallup finds slightly more pro-life voters than pro-choice voters saying they will vote only for a candidate who shares their views, 21% vs. 15%. That represents 9% and 7%, respectively, of all voters — a slight pro-life tilt, albeit one that could have potentially benefited pro-life Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Additionally, by 49% to 43%, pro-life voters are more likely than pro-choice voters to say they will consider a candidate’s position on abortion as one of many important factors in arriving at their vote choice. That means pro-choice voters are more likely than pro-life voters to say abortion is not a major issue to them.

This matches the historical trend going back to 1996 when Gallup polled this question:




The chart above shows a net +2 percent advantage for the pro-life candidate in every presidential year except for 2004, when it was a +7 advantage. A 2 percent net advantage may seem insignificant, but consider that in 2000 George W. Bush was virtually tied in the popular vote  and in 2004 Bush won by just 2 percent. Therefore, this consistent advantage matters in close elections.

Some may wonder why the advantage was over three times higher in 2004, the last time a Republican won national office. However, taking a look at the CNN exit poll data from the 2004 election makes it very clear why:

Source: CNN

As you’ll see above, the most important issue cited by voters was “Moral Values” – 22 percent of the electorate cited this. Bush won these voters 80-18% — an incredible 62-point advantage. This helped offset Kerry’s wins among voters who said their most important issue was the economy and jobs, Iraq, education, and health care.

No one would argue that Bush talked singularly about abortion and other social issues. However, it was part of his overall message, and also something stressed operationally – for instance, over 20 field directors were deployed to swing states to focus solely on recruiting and organizing church-going Catholics – especially Reagan Democrats and Hispanics. It also should be noted that despite (or perhaps as a result of) integrating a pro-life, pro-family message into his campaign, Bush lost women by only 3 points, significantly closing the historical “gender gap.” The 2004 election shows the power of the social conservative vote and the need to incorporate both pro-life messaging and an aggressive operational strategy to get pro-lifers out to the polls.

Social Issue Ballot Initiatives Out-Perform Republican Candidates

The chart below, created by Chuck Donovan, president of our education and research arm the Charlotte Lozier Institute and published by National Review Online, outlines how 6 out of 8 social issue ballot initiatives – whether they won or lost – outperformed the Republican Party statewide candidates on Election Day.


Social Issues v. GOP Headliners




Top Statewide Race

Romney Margin


Parental notice/funding amendment


Bill Nelson (D) v. Connie Mack (R)



Judicial recall – targeted by pro-family groups

Winning but 20% behind 3 other justices

Justice David Wiggins



Same-sex marriage


Angus King (I) v. Charlie Summers (R)



Same-sex marriage


Ben Cardin (D) v. Dan Bongino (R)



Assisted suicide


Eliz. Warren (D) v. Scott Brown (R)



Same-sex marriage


Amy Klobuchar (D) v. Kurt Bills (R)



Parental notice


Jon Tester (D) v. Denny Rehberg (R)



Same-sex marriage


Maria Cantwell (D) v. Michael Baumgartner (R) Jay Inslee (D) v. Rob McKenna (R)


Moving Forward: What the Other Side is Doing and What We Must Do

The pro-abortion lobby and their allies have made it very clear what their strategy is moving forward: Do not talk about abortion and attempt to re-center the debate around contraception, birth control, and rape.

At a post-election strategy session attended by the media, Senator Clare McCaskill said:

“We cannot get so focused on one issue.”

This comment mirrored a September 2012 Politico article about the Democratic strategy on women’s issues, which led with:

“Democrats think they’ve figured out how to win the abortion debate: Don’t make it about abortion.”

Similarly, Planned Parenthood executive Dawn Laguens said at a post-election panel that they deployed women’s issues as a way to keep women from committing to Mitt Romney:

“The effort had a simple strategy: Just get women, frustrated with the economy, to hold off deciding for Romney. ‘Don’t. Wait. Gotta learn more about this stuff’ was the theme, said Laguens.

She said the effort ‘might not be able to close the deal with them, but could keep the elevator doors open, hold it open, until we could see the economy start to come up…’”

The abortion lobby and their allies know from hard data and polling trends that abortion is not a winning issue for them – and so instead, they are working to re-center the debate around contraception and birth control, like they successfully did during the 2012 elections.



The SBA List will be doing everything it can – both publicly and behind closed doors – to counter this strategy and do exactly the opposite. We will keep abortion in the spotlight, centering the abortion debate around what pro-life lawmakers are trying to do in Washington and in state legislatures: working to get taxpayers out of the abortion industry, working to end late-term abortions based on an unborn child’s ability to feel pain, working to ensure parents know if their underage daughter is seeking an abortion, working to save unborn baby girls from sex-selective abortions, working to strengthen informed consent laws, promoting abortion alternatives, and so much more. These are the actual issues being debated – unlike banning contraception and birth control – and are winning issues for our side.

In the coming weeks, we’ll continue aggressively making this case to the media, to our allies, to pro-life lawmakers, to those in leadership positions, to the 2013 and 2014 candidates, to future presidential candidates, and beyond.

In Conclusion: Bright Spots on Election Day

It is always best to end on a good note, especially when you’re part of a pro-life movement filled with joy, love, youth, and optimism. A few encouraging notes:

  • The number of pro-life women in the U.S Senate doubled from 1 to 2 with the election of Deb Fischer of Nebraska. She joins Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, another one of our heroes. Together, they will be the voice of pro-life women in the Senate, and both are excited to lead the charge. The SBA List was proud to play a key role in their races, and we’re proud to stand behind them.
  • Two new pro-life women were elected to the U.S. House: Jackie Walorski of Indiana and Ann Wagner of Missouri. I’ve known both of them for years and can’t wait to work with them in Washington. In Arizona, we’re waiting for the results of Martha McSally’s race, which is still too close to call.
  • Pro-Life leaders Steve King of Iowa and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota were re-elected despite tough challenges from pro-abortion politicians and attacks from the pro-abortion lobby. Re-electing these two leaders was a top priority of the SBA List and the pro-life movement would have been dealt a serious blow had the other side succeeded. Both are ready to continue leading the charge for Life in Congress.
  • Seven out of 8 Republican House members who voted against the ban on late-term abortions in the District of Columbia won’t be returning to Congress. The Republican House caucus is more pro-life than it’s ever been before. This also shows that abandonment of social issues is a losing strategy for Republicans.

Finally, I can’t thank you enough for your selfless support of our shared cause of defending Life. The election results can’t change the fact that God is still in charge, and that He is calling on us to defend the thousands of innocent lives that are lost each day to abortion, and the countless women who are so hurt by abortion. We’ve been through tough election cycles before, and always came out stronger as a movement. I am confident this election cycle is no different. Thank you for standing strong with us.

LifeNews Note: Marjorie Dannenfelser is the president of the Susan B. Anthony List