Fetal Personhood and Spillover Effects of Ballot Measures on Candidate Races

Over the past decade, I’ve written a considerable amount about the “educative effects” of ballot measures, including the potential spillover effects initiatives and referendums can have on candidate campaigns.

Several “fetal personhood” ballot measures currently are being circulated in numerous states by Personhood USA.  If they manage to qualify for the ballot, they could have a very damaging effect on the eventual GOP nominee, as several candidates have taken affirmative positions on the extreme issue, notwithstanding the lack of popular support.

Most recently, Newt Gingrich proposed a national fetal personhood bill, which is modeled after the ballot measures soundly defeated by voters in Colorado and Mississippi.  Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and other hopefuls for the Republican nomination have tied their GOP primary fortunes to the idea that personhood begins at the moment of fertilization.

What the GOP candidates might simply view as symbolic politics during a primary campaign in order to cater to the whims of conservative voters might have real consequences next November if the fetal personhood measures manage to qualify for the ballot in some battleground states, including Florida.

That is, if the Democrats make it an issue.  Recall that in 2004, Democratic Party nominee, John Kerry, refused to touch the issue of raising the minimum wage with a 10 foot poll when he campaigned in Florida. The measure, which was on the ballot in that key state, ended up passing with 71 percent of the vote, garnering support from voters across the political spectrum. Kerry could have easily tied his campaign message to the wildly popular issue, but failed to do so.  Judging by the results in Colorado and Mississippi, Democrats will likely not forgo that opportunity if the fetal personhood measures qualify for the ballot.