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What North Carolinians think about abortion, according to polling
Plus thoughts on U.S. Sen. Tillis dealing with Democrats, Trump's chances in North Carolina in 2024, and Gov. Cooper's toxic politics
When the General Assembly returns for the 2023 long session in January, abortion will immediately become the elephant in the room. The Dobbs decision returning control over the issue to the states almost forces North Carolina to address it: Nearly every state in the country has taken some sort of action to reflect the post-Roe landscape, considering laws to either protect unborn babies at earlier ages or expand the availability of abortion.
North Carolina currently restricts abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, under a law passed in 1973 that is now back in effect. Needless to say, neonatology and obstetrics have advanced quite a bit since then. Fetal ultrasounds weren’t even widely available at the time, let alone the 3-D imaging and Doppler technology that have given us an unprecedented window into the life and development of the unborn.
General Assembly leaders have not publicly revealed any plans for abortion-related legislation. For now, though, it’s worth discussing how North Carolinians feel about the issue, and what implications that has for public policy.
A review of publicly available survey data shows that North Carolinians, in general, want some framework for regulating abortion. Only a small percentage want unlimited abortion, and a small percentage favor outlawing abortion from conception.
North Carolina wants a line drawn somewhere, but where exactly they want it is unclear. Here’s what we gleaned:
North Carolinians are wary of changes to existing policy.
Voters in North Carolina are leery of change, and if you give them a choice, a sizable percentage will simply prefer that things be left alone.
Assuming that the decision would be made, the WRAL poll found hesitancy in the electorate over future changes to abortion law.
A plurality (35%) said they believe North Carolina should leave abortion laws as they are. However, roughy the same percentage wanted abortion more restricted or banned outright.
North Carolinians do not want a complete ban on abortion.
Twelve states, including Tennessee, Oklahoma and Alabama, have outlawed abortion from the point of conception in most cases. Most purple states have not gone that far, and polling shows North Carolina is in that camp, too.
WRAL found that only 16% support completely outlawing abortion. The Civitas poll found that just 10% support a total ban, with that number rising to 32% with exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother.
An Elon poll in November found that 53% would be “dissatisfied” if abortion was completely banned in North Carolina, with a plurality “extremely dissatisfied.”
North Carolinians want abortion restrictions — and they’re open to tighter ones.
Few North Carolinians support legal abortion to the point of birth, as some blue states like California and New York have adopted. Only 23% in the Civitas poll wanted no abortion restrictions, and only 20% in the WRAL poll wanted to ease abortion restrictions.
A plurality (37%) in a poll by left-leaning Carolina Forward in August said they favored abortion restrictions tighter than the current 20 weeks. Only 28% wanted looser restrictions, and 27% favored keeping them as they are.
Asking the question a slightly different way yielded significantly different results. Emerson College found in September that 39% wanted the General Assembly to make it easier to access abortion, 32% wanted the legislature to make it harder, and 29% opted for no new laws at all.
Asking about a specific week of pregnancy yields greater support for restrictions.
When you actually put a pregnancy week cut-off on your abortion polling question, you get suprising results. However, polling using specific policies is very limited, making it tough to draw conclusions.
WRAL polled voters on two specific week limits, 20 weeks (the current law) and 6 weeks. Voters overwhelmingly supported restrictions on abortion at 20 weeks, 57-31.
But the 6-week measure found significant support, as well. This cut-off is consistent with a “heartbeat bill” that other states like Georgia have considered or adopted. The poll found 45% support such a law with 39% opposed.
What does this all mean?
In our representative form of democracy, our elected officials shouldn’t base their votes solely on polls. But as the General Assembly considers new abortion legislation next year, it is valuable to be able to make the case that they’re reflecting the will of our state’s voters.
That’s especially true in North Carolina’s current political landscape. Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper will almost certainly veto any new restriction on abortion, and the General Assembly does not have enough Republicans to overturn it.
That makes effective messaging on the issue even more important. Successfully passing abortion legislation will require peeling off Democrat legislators in swing districts to override a veto, or capturing a supermajority or the Executive Mansion in 2024. Putting Cooper and the Democrats at odds with the majority of North Carolinians will make that easier.
6 things of note
Treasurer Folwell calls on N.C. hospitals to expand charity care or face regulations
State Treasurer Dale Folwell has been an invaluable leader in pushing to improve North Carolina’s broken healthcare system, and he opened up a new front in that battle this week. Folwell joined state lawmakers in pushing North Carolina hospitals to expand their charity care, or face new regulations that would require them to do so, WBTV reports.
Nonprofit hospitals receive significant tax breaks, and in exchange, they’re supposed to offer free care to people who can’t afford to pay. In states like Utah and Illinoisk this charity care is supposed to equal or exceed the value of their tax benefits. In North Carolina, there’s no regulation of charity care at all — and the vast majority of hospitals don’t even come close.
A report commissioned by Folwell and released this week found that nearly $150 million low-income patients who should have qualified for free care under their hospital’s own policies were instead billed for their services. This can have severe ramifications — damaging the patient’s credit or miring them in high-interest debt.
Expect the issue to come up in the 2023 long session, as it should.
Would North Carolina Republicans turn on Trump in 2024?
With former President Donald Trump now formally in the 2024 race, pollsters are in a rush to see how he’d fare in a potential primary. Club for Growth has already put out a poll showing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with a double-digit lead over Trump in Iowa, New Hampshire, Georgia and Florida — though it’s worth noting that this was a head-to-head matchup, with no other potential candidates included.
The conservative Carolina Partnership for Reform conducted a poll that takes a slightly different style of look at North Carolina’s Republican presidential primary. It found that 47% of Republicans want a non-Trump candidate, with 44% preferring Trump, Axios Raleigh reports. However, I have not seen the actual poll results anywhere, so the methodology is unclear.
For the record, I am firmly on Team DeSantis for 2024. While Trump would likely narrowly carry North Carolina in a general election, he’d almost certainly lose the Electoral College. DeSantis, on the other hand, has a real chance of a landslide victory, winning the national popular vote and reshaping the political map in North Carolina, much like he’s already done in Florida.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis becoming primary dealmaker with Democrats
North Carolina’s soon-to-be-senior senator is establishing himself as a primary dealmaker with the Democrat majority in the U.S. Senate. Tillis is reportedly one of the major players involved in passing the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act,” which essentially codifies same-sex marriage in federal law.
He’s also hammering out some sort of deal on immigration, according to Business North Carolina magazine. Tillis would push for this to be passed in the current lame-duck session of Congress. “It won’t be as comprehensive as everyone wants, but I think there’s a growing consensus that if we don’t get it done by the end of this Congress, we may not be in a position to do it again for four to six years,” BNC quotes the senator as saying.
It’s quite remarkable how quickly the political tides have changed regarding same-sex marriage. You’ll recall that President Barack Obama opposed same-sex marriage in his 2008 campaign, which narrowly carried North Carolina. Then in 2012, voters overwhelmingly approved (by a 61-39 margin) Amendment One, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman in North Carolina’s constitution.
Fast forward 10 years, and both of North Carolina’s Republican senators are voting in favor of protecting gay marriage. It’s now a winning issue among the statewide electorate, but not by as large a margin as you might think. A Meredith Poll in September found that 56% of the state supports a federal law to codify same-sex marriage, with 36% opposed.
However, only about one-third of Republicans support such a law, the Meredith Poll found. Tillis has already been vulnerable to a challenge from the right, but he’s not up for re-election until 2026. I wouldn’t expect this vote to be much of an issue by then, though there are real concerns about religious liberty here.
However, the immigration bill could pose a bigger problem for Tillis — or it could be a major victory for him, depending on what ultimately emerges. The nation badly needs immigration reform, but a secure border must be a prerequisite. Since Tillis is hoping to push this through before Republicans take the House majority, I’m a little concerned about what’s being considered.
Overall, though, I think Tillis is considering his legacy more than short-term political implications. It’s clear that Tillis wants to be viewed as a bipartisan dealmaker, a John McCain-style “maverick” who gets things done. I don’t see him jumping in the governor’s race in 2024.
U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson tapped to lead NRCC
After cruising to re-election in the new 9th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson is now entering national GOP leadership as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Hudson was elected unanimously, putting him fourth in line for the House speakership. A North Carolinian hasn’t been House Speaker since Nathaniel Macon, who served in the role from 1801 to 1807. At age 51, Hudson has a shot, though a long one. In the meantime, he’ll be the point man for electing Republicans to Congress — which will have big implications for North Carolina under presumably new maps in 2024.
Cooper pledges to stump for Biden in 2024
If anybody still views Gov. Roy Cooper as a friendly, gentle, moderate politician, watching his recent interview with CBS News’s Major Garrett would certainly disabuse them of that notion. Cooper lives and breathes partisan politics, and he sounded in his element riffing on the midterm results. He channeled his inner MSNBC host, labeling various Republican positions as “dangerous,” “diabolical,” "extreme," and “scary.” There was very little truly of note, with one exception: He’s 100% on Team Biden.
Before the midterms, when everybody was expecting a red wave, there was plenty of discontent among national Democrats with President Biden and wide speculation that the party would push another nominee for 2024. If Cooper’s interview is any indication, that push is now gone. Cooper told CBS News that he spoke with Biden soon after the election and encouraged him to run again.
“I told him that I will try to win North Carolina,” Cooper said, adding that he doesn’t believe the state would vote for former President Donald Trump again should he get the 2024 Republican nomination. “I ran for governor in 2016 and 2020, and I won at the same time Trump won,” Cooper said. “I know the people here. I do not believe that North Carolina will make that mistake again.”
I doubt that conclusion, but it is notable that Cooper pledged to campaign for Biden in 2024. While supportive of Biden, Cooper didn’t really actively campaign for him in 2020 — focusing on General Assembly campaigns and his own re-election. Cooper is clearly an effective campaigner, and it will be interesting to see what effect he has now that he’s term-limited as governor. Worth noting: There is no Senate race in North Carolina in 2024, so there’s no real chance Cooper will be on the ballot himself in that election.
Cooper dismisses DeSantis and Abbott, shows he’s out of touch on education
Another note from the Cooper interview with CBS News: I couldn’t help but laugh at his characterization of the results of the Florida and Texas gubernatorial races. Gov. Ron DeSantis won by nearly 20 points in Florida, while Gov. Greg Abbott won by 11.
“One of the hardest things to do in politics is to defeat an incumbent governor,” Cooper said in response. “Governors do so much work that affects people's day-to-day lives. Even if you're not such a good governor, it's still hard to root one out." Yes, governor, we discovered that here in North Carolina in 2020.
Cooper also criticized DeSantis’s approach to education reform. His Stop WOKE Act prohibits school districts from teaching radical critical race theory or hiring CRT consultants, while Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law prevents teaching lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3.
"The classroom is not a place for culture wars,” Cooper said. “We need to teach science, and history, and math, and reading, and we don't need to put our children in the middle of that."
This fundamentally misunderstands the issue. Cooper’s statement is true, of course, and that’s exactly why DeSantis’s policies are so popular. They take aim to take the culture war out of the classroom, not insert it in.
North Carolina would do well to copy both policies.
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