Abortion is only the tip of the iceberg: Be wary of single-issue politics in 2024 election

Gwen Henry | Cartoonist

By The Editorial Board

In a post-Roe world, single-issue politics is king — and in the 2024 election, it’s even more so.

Abortion rights fueled decisive Democratic wins across the country in last week’s off-year elections. For example, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) won a second term in the deep-red state of Kentucky, where former President Donald Trump had defeated President Joe Biden 62% to 26% in 2020. Meanwhile, in Virginia, Democrats gained complete control of the state Legislature. Finally, Judge Dan McCaffery (D) won a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

What ties all these together, though?

Very pointed, well-funded, emotional advertising — all centered on abortion rights.

According to AdImpact, in 2019, 2020 and 2021, abortion ranked as the 21st, 24th and 26th most mentioned issue in political advertising. In 2022, after Dobbs, it ranked second. This year alone, Democrats have spent over $74 million on advertising about abortion, according to the New York Times.

“We just keep rising from the dead like the music video ‘Thriller,’” Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha said in a Washington Post article. “Democrats have huge momentum on an issue set that just keeps proving over and over again to be a successful strategy — and this strategy is based around people being very upset about [abortion] and people really not wanting to give Republicans, the MAGA party, the keys to the car.”

Perhaps nothing is as telling as Ohio’s decision to enshrine the right to abortion in its state constitution, which made it the seventh state to do so. With 56.6% of the votes, citizens affirmed the “Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative” in the state — another one where Trump had prevailed in both 2016 and 2020.

So, it’s clear that abortion is the issue at the top of people’s minds. While it is fair to consider and weigh it heavily, it becomes dangerous when it is the only issue in people’s minds.

A recent poll done by the KFF (an independent polling source) revealed that 30% of voters and 35% of female voters would only vote for a candidate who shared their opinions on abortion.

Ultimately, voters are called to weigh the personal significance of a wide swathe of political topics — from abortion and taxes to health care and immigration. If, in the process of reflecting on all such topics, you recognize that abortion is the most important issue to you, then vote according to your opinion on abortion. However, if you neglect that reflection process, then you are doing a disservice to yourself and to the very idea of America’s representative democracy.

Elections form the cornerstone of our nation. The reason they happen so frequently is so that politicians can be held accountable by their constituents. However, if we give in to single-issue politics, we essentially nullify all of this. We throw accountability out the window. We signal that all we require to get on a candidate’s side is a two-word label of “pro-choice” or “pro-life” — and nothing else. At the most basic level, we say, “As long as you do this one thing, I will support you.”

Where does that take us?

On a one-way trip to disappointment.

And we can’t blame anyone but ourselves. If we give parties the idea that all they need to do to gain and maintain our support is to fulfill a singular basic policy position, they won’t feel obligated to campaign or perform in other areas. It’s a cop-out.

Take this as your warning: The two parties know exactly what makes the American public tick. And in 2024, it’s abortion.

“Abortion is the No. 1 issue in the 2024 campaign,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a New York Times article. “If you’re not talking about protecting women’s reproductive rights as a Democrat, you’re not doing it right.”

Yep — “doing it right.” At some point in our nation’s history, political advertising changed the name of the game from informing to persuading. In their slew of emotional appeals, the two parties are simply trying to trigger you so quickly that, in the span of about 15 seconds, you’ll happily sign your ballot away to them.

So, prepare yourself for a flurry of political advertising on the topic, and don’t let parties use an issue you value highly against you. Make them work for your vote.

It’s becoming more and more clear that the 2024 presidential election is being painted as a referendum on abortion, but abortion is just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t forget about what’s down below.