I was recently telling a Democratic friend about Obama's abortion balancing act. One day he repeals the Mexico City "gag rule" delighting pro-choice activists. The next week he seems intent on making it up to pro-life voters, announcing that one priority of a new faith-based council will be reducing the need for abortion.
My friend interrupted and said, "why should we care about appeasing the pro-lifers? We won."
The first reason, I said, is because Obama promised.
But then I thought about the word "we." Obviously my friend was making a realpolitick assumption that his side, the Obama coalition, was almost entirely pro-choice. But is that really true?
No. Pro-lifers made up a meaningful percentage of Obama's winning coalition. Professor John Green of University of Akron, czar of all religion-and-politics polling, reports that based on not-yet-released survey conducted in December, about a quarter of Obama's vote came from pro-lifers, defined as people "wanting serious restrictions on abortion, but not necessarily a full ban on abortions." What's more, Green will report, about one third of young voters who went for Obama are pro-life.
These findings comport with Beliefnet's own less scientific user survey.
Now obviously, pro-choicers made up an even bigger portion of his coalition. But pro-lifers comprised a surprisingly big minority.
As a point of reference, this would mean that pro-lifers made up a bigger percentage of Obama's vote than....union members, white Catholics, Jews, gays, Latinos or 18-21 year olds.
As a good Democrat, you'd never think of being so cavalier with those groups, why would you blow off the pro-lifers?
The strong showing comes in part because Obama improved with Latinos, evangelicals, Catholics, and regular church-goers. Obama doesn't have to act on abortion right away -- most of Obama's religious voters care more about the economy than abortion -- but he also shouldn't think that he can abandon his abortion reduction promises without political consequences.
More from Steven Waldman on Beliefnet.