Primaries show conservative Kansans more pro-choice than once believed

13 News at Six
Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 5:00 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A politics professor at the University of Kansas says the shocking results of Tuesday’s vote against the ‘Value Them Both’ Amendment is not really that shocking when you look at the data.

Dr. Patrick R. Miller, an Associate Professor of Politics at the University of Kansas says while Kansas is widely known as a conservative state, that does not necessarily mean residents are anti-abortion.

“We have at least 20 years of polling that shows that the typical Kansan is in favor a basic right to abortion access, but with limitations. They are not a hundred percent in either direction,” Miller told 13 NEWS in a Wednesday afternoon Zoom interview.

Miller says GOP lawmakers, some even openly, pushed for the abortion referendum to be in the Primary Elections knowing that lower voter turnout would yield better chances for the amendment to pass. Kansas typically sees 20-25% voter turnout in Primary Elections, which is much lower than General Elections.

However, that strategy did not work. An astonishing 46.6%, or nearly 909,000 registered voters cast ballots across the state on August 2nd. More than 534,000 of those voted ‘no’ for the abortion rights amendment, 159,000 more than the 347,000+ that voted ‘yes.’

In July, research firm CoEfficient revealed that 47% of respondents to their survey indicated they would vote ‘yes’ to the Value Them Both Amendment, opposed to 43% who said they would vote ‘no.’

Miller credits the mobilization of unaffiliated voters, who typically do not have a reason to vote in the primaries. He also said the issue of abortion does not appear to fall upon party lines in Kansas as many thought it did, citing counties that never elect democrats at any level voting against the ‘Value Them Both’ amendment.

“They’re not becoming democratic counties, but on this one issue where they were allowed the opportunity to vote on abortion, they did so, and they expressed their preference,” Miller said. “I think it’s just a lesson to those of us who watch politics, that abortion is not as polarizing as really, really we think.”

Miller says the ‘Value Them Both’ movement’s strategy to focus on abortion regulations such as government funding of late term abortions was the best strategy, it wasn’t the most effective.

“The vote yes side wanted to keep their campaign focused on what they saw were threats to abortion regulations. You can call their messaging misleading or not in terms of making voters think that those regulations were more threatened than they actually were, but they chose to focus on those regulations,” Miller said. “They really worked very hard to not talk about what comes next, which was the ban. The vote no side -- that’s what they went to, and I think that was strategically smart. They wanted to talk about what comes next.”

After the results were made official, some amendment advocates were quick to point the finger as to why their ‘common sense’ legislation did not pass. Miller says that’s just politics, and “you have to find a way to rationalize it as if it’s not your own fault.”

Unlike traditional races that allow for two or more candidates to debate the issue or issues at hand, Miller says the two sides of the amendment never got to engage one another face to face, per se.

“We really didn’t have a vigorous public debate about whether abortion should be banned in Kansas. We did not have a vigorous debate about rape, incest, life and health exceptions when that’s the reality of policy being passed in neighboring states. I think because the two sides really didn’t engage with each other, it was often more convenient for them to just say that the other side was being misleading or lying when in reality it was just a choice to focus on what comes next or not,” Miller said.

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