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Memo to the Movement: How Gen Z’s Vote on Issue 1 Informs the Abortion Amendment Fight
Society of St. Sebastian | 16 November 2023
On November 7th, 2023, a constitutional amendment titled “Issue 1” which would add a “right to abortion” to Ohio’s founding document and legalize abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, passed by a voting margin of 56.6% to 43.4%. This loss galvanized pro-life allies across the country to identify takeaways from this election result. It is worth acknowledging that had another proposed amendment brought forth during the August special election, also called “Issue 1,” which would have raised the threshold to amend Ohio’s Constitution to 60%, passed, this second “Issue 1” would have fallen short. Regardless, Ohio faces a dark road ahead, but in the midst of this devastating setback, other states may glean invaluable insights on how to stop efforts to add abortion into their own constitutions.
In the wake of Issue 1’s passage, it is helpful to identify a few key areas other states poised to fight similar measures could learn from Ohio. As analytics continue to roll in, breaking down one such exit poll will doubtless prove helpful. Students for Life Action’s Memo to the Movement: Issue 1 Youth Vote Exit Polling, provides insight into young voters’ patterns and motivations, especially those of Generation Z. Securing Gen Z’s vote for life will prove critical in the coming years. Although lessons may be learned from a variety of demographics who voted on Issue 1, for the sake of brevity, we will focus on this particular poll.
The information compiled in Memo to the Movement was gathered by volunteers outside of polling locations in 7 Ohio cities. The exit poll surveyed 464 voters, most of whom (80%) were Gen Z. The remaining participants identified themselves as either Millennial (12%), above the age of 40 or declined to disclose their age (8%). Neutrally identified volunteers invited voters to participate in a survey as they exited their polling location on November 7th.
For these voters, two narratives emerged as the primary motivations for a “yes” or “no” vote on Issue 1. Of those who voted “yes,” their top priority was legalizing abortion in the “hard cases” such as rape, incest, and the life of the mother, not legalizing abortion through all nine months of pregnancy as Issue 1 would do in practicality.  Ohio’s Heartbeat Law, blocked in court at the time of the survey, had no exceptions for rape and incest, although it did allow for doctors to provide life-saving care to women experiencing medical emergencies.  Miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy care are already explicitly protected in Ohio Revised Code; although it is worthwhile to note that pro-Issue 1 forces repeatedly ignored or simply lied about that reality throughout their campaign.    Those who voted “no” by contrast, overwhelmingly did so to stop the legalization of abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, at 85%.  Although the coherence of Gen Z’s “no” vote is both encouraging and helpful in understanding young voters’ motivations, it is important to note that only 24% of those 18-24 (the same age range Memo uses to define Gen Z) ultimately voted to reject Issue 1. 76% voted in favor of the amendment. 
Parental rights proved an extremely low factor in driving young voters to a “no” vote (only 8%), and interestingly, of those who voted “yes” a minor’s right to not involve their parents in an abortion decision was listed as a statistical driver, albeit a minute one at 4%.  The minimal impact of parental rights messaging is unsurprising, given that most Gen Z voters are most likely not parents. However given that Gen Z voters overwhelmingly supported Issue 1, it is clear that the movement would do well to interpret the data with the aim of further reaching this increasingly relevant demographic.
This leads to the immediate question of how best to reach Gen Z’s hearts and minds on the topic of abortion. Statistically, the majority of respondents to Memo said that conversations with friends primarily informed their views on Issue 1, to the tune of 44%. Content on TV, radio, and social media came in a close second at 39%.  Given the pro-life movement’s obvious handicap on fundraising—not everyone can pull from the bank-roll of international billionaires—social media may prove a tool the movement can no longer afford to resist making a top priority. A TV ad run can cost upwards of $1 million per week.  An intentional social media apparatus, especially one run by Gen Z themselves, may prove a viable option to boost voter reach and may be more financially attainable than conventional methods.
Either way, much work must be done to educate and flip voters if the pro-life movement wants to stop the coming onslaught of pro-abortion ballot proposals. By and large, Ohio voters weighing in on Issue 1 did not view themselves as voting for the widespread legalization of abortion. Rather, they rationalized support for Issue 1 as a compassionate and critical safety net from extraordinary circumstances. This is additionally supported by the fact that a 2023 Gallup Poll showed that only 43% of young people believe abortion should be legal in any circumstance, and 41% believe it should be legal only in some instances. It is worth noting that the age range for this particular poll is wider (18-29 instead of Memo’s 18-24) but due to the fact that Millennials often skew more pro-abortion than Gen Z, this number proves more startling. Issue 1’s proponents so clearly defined the imaginary threat posed by Ohio’s pro-life protections that they convinced thousands of voters to go against their values on the issue of abortion.
The somewhat new phenomena of the ballot initiatives have forced pro-life forces to deal largely in yet-realized threats. By contrast, the pro-abortion side has had over a year of post-Dobbs fear-mongering and horror stories, still fresh in Ohioans’ minds and continually perpetuated by the media, from which to draw. Additionally, excessive and strategic ad-buys from the pro-abortion side hit Ohio voters in the make-or-break days immediately before the election. During this period, Protect Women Ohio was outspent 3 to 1. Despite the obvious negative impact of Issue 1’s passage, the revelation that all-access abortion is not the driving force behind voters’ embrace of these ballot initiatives could prove an unsuspected silver lining. If the movement, through personable approaches such as intentional and informed word-of-mouth and targeted social media engagement, can succeed in both demonstrating the inherently violent and dangerous nature of abortion through all nine months and the existing safety nets for women experiencing unfathomably difficult situations, we can secure victories yet. To do this, we must choose to lean into society’s conversations around the issue, not attempt to work around them.
On this new front for the pro-life movement, it will take time, and even a few key losses, to hone our strategy. Ohio’s pro-life movement fought tooth and nail to stop Issue 1, up against impossible odds and the bank roll of out-of-state billionaires. None of those efforts, no matter how devastating the ultimate result, will prove in vain. In the days ahead, it is imperative for the pro-life movement to continue its bold advocacy, while also resisting the urge to talk to itself. We cannot ignore or trivialize the “hard cases,” and it is clear that the pro-abortion movement will not give us the option to do so. Regardless of what cohesive messaging strategy we ultimately employ, we must face their talking points head-on. It is not enough to be reactive, we must be proactive. Even in Ohio’s grief, as we face countless lives lost in the wake of Issue 1’s passage, there is hope that we have laid a path forward by providing key statistics and messaging that may stop the killing elsewhere. If this proves our service to the movement to protect women and babies from the brutality of abortion, so be it.
 Staff, The Columbus Dispatch. “2023 Ohio General Election Results.” The Columbus Dispatch, November 8, 2023. https://www.dispatch.com/elections/results/local/.
 Smyth, Julie Carr, and Samantha Hendrickson. “Voters in Ohio Reject GOP-Backed Proposal That Would Have Made It Tougher to Protect Abortion Rights .” Apnews.Com, August 9, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/ohio-abortion-rights-constitutional-amendment-special-election-227cde039f8d51723612878525164f1a.
 “Memo to the Movement: Issue 1 Youth Vote Exit Polling.” Demetree Institute for Pro-Life Advancement, November 8, 2023.
 See 3
 Rosenberg, Gabe. “A Bill Banning Most Abortions Becomes Law in Ohio.” NPR, April 11, 2019. https://www.npr.org/2019/04/11/712455980/a-bill-banning-most-abortions-becomes-law-in-ohio.
 “Section 2919.11: Abortion Defined.” Section 2919.11 - Ohio Revised Code | Ohio Laws, September 16, 1974. https://codes.ohio.gov/ohio-revised-code/section-2919.11.
 “Section 2919.191: Applicability.” Section 2919.191 - Ohio Revised Code | Ohio Laws, July 11, 2019. https://codes.ohio.gov/ohio-revised-code/section-2919.191.
 Ingles, Jo. “What Does Ohio’s Issue 1 Say on Miscarriage Care and Other Reproductive Rights?” The Statehouse News Bureau, October 25, 2023. https://www.statenews.org/government-politics/2023-10-24/what-does-ohios-issue-1-say-on-miscarriage-care-and-other-reproductive-rights.
 See 3
 “Exit Polls for Ohio Ballot Measure Election Results 2023 | CNN Politics.” CNN, November 7, 2023. https://www.cnn.com/election/2023/exit-polls/ohio/abortion-ballot-measure/0.
 See 3
 See 3
 Tobias, Andrew. “Campaign against State Issue 1 Shows Some Cards with First Ad Buy.” Cleveland.Com, June 27, 2023. https://www.cleveland.com/news/2023/06/campaign-against-state-issue-1-shows-some-cards-with-first-ad-buy.html.
 Gallup. “Abortion Trends by Age.” Gallup.com, June 23, 2023. https://news.gallup.com/poll/246206/abortion-trends-age.aspx.
 Dannenfelser, Marjorie. “SBA Ohio, Virginia Results Memo.” SBA Pro-Life America, November 8, 2023.
 Lynna Lia. “3News Investigates: Who’s Funding Campaigns for and against Ohio Issue 1?” 3wkyc.Com, October 27, 2023. https://www.wkyc.com/article/news/investigations/3news-investigates-funding-campaigns-for-and-against-ohio-issue-1/95-fa04c34d-6dd7-4fe3-b2ad-9592dbd5664c.