Wedge issues

by | Sep 11, 2023 | Editor's Blog | 1 comment

Today is the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. For me, today’s not just a remembrance for those who died, but a recognition of a before and after period, like December 7 was for the generation that lived during attack on Pearl Harbor. The 1990s seems like a pretty naïve time. We had won the Cold War. We were the sole superpower. Our economy was strong. What could go wrong? 

Since then, we’ve been embroiled in foreign conflicts and become a sharply divided a nation. It’s hard to tell whether the attack 22 years ago led to that division or would it have emerged anyway. Regardless, the day re-awakened the sense of impending danger that defined much of the Cold War era. It’s another day that will live in infamy.

In more local news, Carolina Forward has a new poll out today. I’m not very high on polls these days, mostly because I believe we’ve become way to poll obsessed. I’m particularly down on polls that look at candidates. We’re too far out for them to have much significance and I think approval ratings and right track-wrong track type questions have lost a lot of significance. All they are really measuring is the general dissatisfaction that people are feeling about our government and society. 

That said, the poll this morning focuses more on people’s overall opinion of issues, in particular, abortion and vouchers. Both of these issues should be salient for Democrats in state elections. The voters disagree with both limiting access to reproductive health and so-called “school choice.” 

The abortion question asks, “How strongly would you support or oppose amending the North Carolina constitution to guarantee individual rights to make reproductive choices, including the right to an abortion?” Forty-nine percent strongly support such a move and another 13% somewhat support it. Most significantly, 62% of independent voters strongly support an amendment. Republicans are the only people in the state to oppose such a measure and even a quarter of them support it. 

Now, a constitutional amendment is never going to come up, because Republicans know it would fail. That said, I don’t think the amendment is nearly as significant as the sentiment. With the exception of Republicans, people in the state overwhelming support the right abortion access. The legislature’s insistence of restricting access to abortion gives Democrats a powerful wedge issue. 

The question on vouchers reads, “How strongly would you support or oppose using taxpayer money to subsidize tuition for students attending private religious schools?” In this question, 53% of voters strongly oppose the use of vouchers, including 58% of independents. More Republicans oppose the measure than support it. That’s really bad news for the GOP. 

Both of these issues give Democrats a hammer. At a time when teacher pay and per pupil spending is among the lowest in the nation, Republicans are sending money from public schools to religious ones. Restricting access to abortion has proven a loser in states across the nation and this poll shows that Democrats can use it here, too. 

The 2024 election will be driven by the national narrative. However, Republicans’ insistence on supporting extremist legislation at the state level may cause them significant pain. Candidates for governor and Council of State will have to defend overwhelmingly unpopular bills that the GOP rammed through the legislature. Democrats can define them as giving advantages to private religious schools at the expense of public ones and they can show that the GOP opposes access to abortion care despite the sentiments of a large majority of the population. 

In the race for governor, Democrats can show that Josh Stein is the only thing standing between extremism and good government. They can bash Republicans for being out of touch on issues that are important to most people in the state. In suburban legislative districts, GOP candidates will have to face voters that disagree their signature legislative victories this year. Democrats need to put them on the defensive. They have two potent wedge issues to do it.

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