WILLIAMS: Republicans Have to Talk about Abortion to Win in 2024

According to popular commentary and polling, abortion is a clear loser for Republicans. The aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision has been primarily defined as a backlash against the pro-life movement that has galvanized supporters of legalized abortion. This is unfortunately true.


The 2022 midterms went from lofty expectations of a red wave sweeping Congress into a light trickle as Republicans barely secured a slim majority in the U.S. House while failing to retake the Senate. It’s undeniable abortion, among other things, played a role in muting GOP gains in 2022.

As 2024 nears, the question of abortion leaves Republicans exposed. However, running from bad polling isn’t an option.

First, let’s establish a cold hard truth. Republicans lose on abortion when they choose not to fight on it. Conservatives that leaned into their pro-life base had no issue winning in 2022. This isn’t rocket science; once you cede the messaging battle to the opposition, you will lose in the arena of public opinion.

During the 2022 midterms, many Republicans ceded the abortion debate to the left, and it cost them votes. Democrats spent 14 times more than Republicans on abortion-related advertising on Facebook during the 2022 midterms. The Republican National Committee spent none of its digital advertising budget on abortion. An analysis from Ad Impact found that by September of 2022, Democrats aired over 37,000 weekly ads mentioning abortion compared to a little over 2,600 ads per week by Republicans. Public opinion can shift with debate, but to successfully influence it, you must engage and invest in the debate.


Abortion polling reflects this disparity. After Dobbs was released, the number of Americans identifying as pro-choice surged to record highs. This surge in abortion support has been primarily driven by young adults. A Gallup poll of 18 to 29-year-olds’ self-identification on the issue of abortion showed that from 1995 to 2022 there was a clear increase to a record high of 71 percent identifying as pro-choice. Likewise, a comprehensive view of the data (here and here) lends support to the idea that support for abortion is being propelled by young new voters.

However, this shouldn’t scare Republicans; it should embolden them. These new voters simply weren’t a part of the previous policy debates on late-term abortion, fetal pain, and born-alive protections. In short, candidates and strategists should view young voters as being persuadable on the issue instead of simply hoping they won’t vote in high numbers.

Post-Dobbs, Republicans have been hesitant to affirm the pro-life stance they used to proclaim proudly. They regularly get caught in the minutiae of arguing how many weeks are too many (or too few) to kill the innocent. This has to change. We have a tried-and-true formula for abortion messaging: embrace your base, emphasize the humanity of the unborn, promote abortion alternatives, and combat deceitful narratives.


If Republicans allow young voters to go to the polls believing being pro-life is a cruel, fascist, anti-woman position, they will lose. If Republicans allow young voters to go to the polls believing there’s a secret right-wing plot to ban contraceptives, they will lose. If Republicans allow young voters to go to the polls believing that pro-lifers are well-meaning people seeking to preserve innocent human life, they may have a chance at victory. Conservatives aren’t going to convince every voter to adopt a pro-life position; however, Republicans may be able to convince a large majority of voters that being pro-life isn’t antithetical to the well-being of women.

Raheem Williams is a policy analyst at the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE). He has worked for several liberty-based academic research centers and think tanks. He received his B.A. in economics from Florida International University and his M.A. in financial economics from the University of Detroit Mercy.


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