November 30, 2023
But it isn’t clear if legislative leaders will push for either proposed amendment to appear on the ballot in 2024 or 2026.
By Peter Callaghan | Staff Writer
Two Minnesota constitutional amendments being considered by the DFL-controlled state Legislature are viewed favorably by state residents surveyed in the latest MinnPost/Embold Research poll.
Constitutional changes that would include the right to abortion and reproductive rights and an equal rights amendment are supported by a majority of the 1,519 state voters surveyed Nov. 14-17 in an online poll that had a margin of error of 2.6%. (You can view the full results here.)
Placing abortion rights in the Minnesota Constitution was supported by 53% of respondents with 42% saying they strongly supported the concept and 12% saying they somewhat supported it (the overall total results from rounding). Those saying they somewhat oppose such a measure (7%) or strongly oppose it (27%) make up the 34% total opposed. Another 13% said they were not sure.
A state equal rights amendment — which asks voters if equal rights under the law should be protected regardless of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry, or national origin — does better in the survey. Initially, 57% of respondents said they would vote for a state constitutional amendment similar to language that received bipartisan support in the state Senate last spring. Another 23% said they would not support such a measure. When those saying they were not sure were asked how they would vote if they had to choose, an additional 3% said they would support it and an additional 2% said they would not, providing an aggregated total of 60% in support and 25% opposed.
Neither issue has yet been placed on state ballots. The Legislature has considered both in the past and is expected to consider the measures again when convenes Feb. 12. But it remains unclear whether legislative leaders will support putting either before voters in 2024 or even in 2026.
To appear on a general election ballot, proposed amendments must receive a majority vote in both the House and Senate and don’t need the governor’s signature. Then, amendments must receive a majority of the votes cast in that election, not just for that measure. That is, a voter who doesn’t make a choice on the amendment essentially registers a no vote.
“Minnesotans continue to tell us that they are concerned that their kids have less rights than they did and they want access to reproductive health care,” said Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic. The 2023 session passed sweeping abortion rights legislation, including protections for health care providers and women from other states who travel to Minnesota for abortions. The Senate also passed the same equal rights amendment language that was read to poll respondents. But that doesn’t mean the Senate will vote to place either or both on the ballot, Dziedzic said.
“We are concerned in general about any ballot initiatives,” she said. “If we are going to put one forward we want to make sure that it passes and we want to make sure we have it right. All of this will have to be very thoughtfully worked out.”
House Speaker Melissa Hortman has endorsed an abortion constitutional amendment in the past but agreed with Dziedzic that there are many things to consider before placing it on the ballot in 2024, 2026 or at all. Amendments require campaigns, not just on the issue but to make sure voters get to that part of the ballot and don’t let a failure to vote become a no vote. And issues with majority support in polls can fail at the ballot after a campaign, such as the GOP-backed same-sex marriage restrictions in 2012.
Neither leader doubts there is majority voter support for abortion rights and thinks an ERA has strong support as well. Both likely owe party control of their respective legislative chambers to the impact of the abortion issue in the 2022 election,which came months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. But both think that advantage remains for DFLers whether there is a constitutional amendment sharing the ballot with DFL candidates or not. So other considerations are more top of mind.
“We’ll look at who is for it, who is against, do Minnesotans want this on the ballot, what is the legal impact?” Hortman said. “I don’t want to put something on the ballot that reflects good public policy but does not have infrastructural support to get it passed.”
There is another twist being considered: combining both issues into a single constitutional amendment. A New York state proposed amendment that will be on the 2024 ballot expands existing constitutional protection for race, color, creed and religion to include ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes and “reproductive healthcare and autonomy.”
Abortion-related ballot measures have been decided in favor of reproductive rights in seven elections across the nation since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June of 2022. In some elections, abortion rights restrictions were defeated. In others, as with an Ohio constitutional amendment earlier this month, abortion protections were adopted by voters. More states will see abortion measures on the 2024 ballot, including constitutional amendments in New York and Maryland.
As the question in the poll states, the 2023 Legislature passed sweeping legislation not only to protect access to abortion but also to repeal restrictions placed in state law by past Legislatures. It also offered protections to people who travel to Minnesota for abortions and the medical professionals who care for them. Minnesota now has some of the strongest protections in the United States, but the survey asked if people supported moves “to further protect these rights by placing a question before Minnesota voters that would add abortion rights to the state’s constitution.”
‘Done deal already’?
Christopher Chapp, a professor of political science at St. Olaf College who researches political communication, campaigns and elections, said he expected the support for the abortion issue would be higher. But said the phrasing of the question could have been a factor.
“It might be that voters in Minnesota see this as a done deal already, that Minnesota has abortion protections so why would we need to enshrine it in the constitution,” Chapp said. However, if it were on the ballot, those voters might well vote yes, “but it just means that it might be as salient.”
Other poll questions tested support for abortion protections. When respondents were asked to choose four of the listed issues that are “high priorities for you,” the overturning of Roe v. Wade received the second highest number of selections at 40%. It finished behind “the rising costs of goods like groceries and gas at 60%.
Later, poll respondents were presented with a question with just those two issues: Which of the following worries you more? Women’s right to abortion being taken away or inflation and the rising cost of living. With that choice, 31% said abortion rights and 63% said inflation.
But as the 2022 legislative election showed, even a relatively small number of voters concerned about abortion and looking for like-minded candidates can make the difference in close races. Republicans ran on crime and inflation but close races — and the narrow DFL legislative majorities — went to candidates who talked about protecting access to abortion.
The 2022 MinnPost/Embold poll taken just before the 2022 election offered the same list of issues and produced similar results — inflation was among the four issues chosen by 61% or respondents and 43% picked the overturning of Roe v. Wade. But a year ago, violent crime was third with 42% while it was seventh highest last month with 31%.
Sen. Mark Johnson, a Republican from East Grand Forks who is the minority leader of the Senate, said the poll results didn’t surprise him because access to abortion has gotten majority support in past polls. But he said the GOP will likely try to discuss with voters the breadth of the abortion rights bills passed in 2023.
“We understand it’s at the forefront for a lot of people,” Johnson said. “But if people understood exactly what happened last year with the PRO Act, it’s the extreme nature of what Democrats have done.” He said voters will likely support some limitations such as the gestational age of the fetus and the viability of the pregnancy.
“Can we put reasonable protections back on that and can we get a consensus around that?” he asked. “Going forward we have to find reasonable protections for mothers and babies.”
Some bipartisan support
Ben Greenfield, who conducted the poll for Embold Research, said support for the ERA was stronger than for an abortion measure and included somewhat more bipartisan support. He said it is unclear how voter sentiment would change if the two measures are combined into a single measure. Republicans who said they would vote for the ERA but did not support adding reproductive rights to the state constitution could be in play in an election campaign.
While 89% of self-identified Democrats said they would vote for the ERA language that was included in a bill passed by the state Senate last May, that support level fell to 46% among independents and 26% among Republicans. Sixty-four percent of women said they would vote yes and 50% of men supported it.
Chapp said he was impressed by the bipartisan support for the measure but said the language is lengthy and complex and there is a tendency for voters to avoid ballot issues that they are unclear about. He said that while the ERA does have the power to attract voters who might not otherwise vote, especially young voters, it could — as worded to include sexual orientation as well as gender identity or expression — become a lightning-rod political issue and motivate conservatives as well.
Chapp said most voters vote based on party identification and rarely do they vote based on issues. Abortion, however, is one issue that could change that.
“Partisanship is king,” he said. “Elections are a matter of getting your lean Democrats or lean Republicans to show up at the polls. However, there are certain issues that buck that trend.” Abortion in 2022 generated turnout and generated what Chapp called “peel” from loyal partisan voting — that is, Republican voters who supported abortion-rights candidates of the other party.
“It generated enough to matter in 2022,” he said.
Among Democrats, 89% said they supported an abortion-releated constitutional amendment, compared to 48% of independents and 17% of Republicans. Among women, support was 62% and among men 45%.
Not the right time?
Betty Folliard is the founder of ERA Minnesota who has been campaigning for the amendment full time since 2014. She said she has often been told that now is not the time for a state ERA or that it is too hard.
“It’s the same message we’ve gotten for 100 years,” she said. “And it is the same messenger,” white men.
“The fact is we have the votes, believe me. And if you want to have a draw on the 2024 ballot that will bring out young people, that will bring out LGBTQIA-plus votes, and will bring out women, you better put the equal rights amendment on there. And if you include reproductive rights, it’s only going to strengthen.”
That’s why Folliard said she was pleased to see the poll results that had ERA doing better than the abortion issue. That suggests that perhaps combining the two issues together could help both pass. That is what advocates have done in New York for the 2024 ballot.
“They are strong individually across the state and across the country, and they are even stronger together,” she said. “The ERA lifts abortion.”
A coalition of ERA Minnesota, Planned Parenthood and Gender Justice has been debating how best to approach the issues, whether to combine them into one amendment and when would be the best election for ballot placement — 2024 or 2026. The coalition is preparing to conduct its own statewide poll.
“We’re doing a lot of hard work now to have something for the Legislature to take to the finish line,” Folliard said. There is no agreement, however.
Tim Stanley, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund, said the poll results confirm his understanding of the Minnesota electorate. But in a written statement to MinnPost, Stanley said no decision has been agreed to on a constitutional amendment.
“We are continually considering what steps we can take to strengthen our protections, including a potential constitutional amendment,” he said. “Constitutional amendments are serious and expensive undertakings that must be initiated after due diligence. Conversations among stakeholders are ongoing.”
Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin, who supports the ERA and abortion rights, acknowledged the ongoing debate about political strategy and timing on both issues appearing on the ballot. But Martin took issue with the assertion that putting an abortion amendment on the 2024 ballot will boost DFL candidates as well as President Biden.
“I have no doubt if either one of those of those were on the ballot they would pass and certainly your poll shows that,” Martin said. “But whether or not those issues are on the ballot, abortion as an issue will be on the ballot. The extreme positions of the Republicans running for president will drive the electorate, with or without a ballot amendment on the ballot.
“It is front and center,” Martin said.
Click here to read full article on MinnPost.com.
*Content from: https://www.minnpost.com/state-government/2023/11/poll-most-minnesota-voters-support-state-constitutional-protections-for-abortion-equal-rights/