What makes Americans angry also propels them out to vote. The key for political campaigns, however, is to make sure that the issue motivating their base isn't also: a) getting the other side's base super engaged; and/or b) turning off independent-leaning voters you need to win a general election. 

After the 2020 election, for example, many moderate Democrats blamed their losses at the House level on liberals' over-emphasis on things like "defunding" the police and support for fewer restrictions on immigration. While those issues may have motivated younger voters and/or voters of color to show up to the polls for Democrats, they also turned off swing voters in battleground districts. 

In 2022, the abortion issue—normally a base motivator for the GOP—did more to turn out the Democratic base than to motivate an already engaged GOP one. 

For example, a post-election survey by the progressive group Navigator Research found that among those who "somewhat" disapproved of President Biden's handling of the economy—13 percent of the electorate—voters backed Democrats over Republicans by a greater than two-to-one margin (net +36; 65 percent Democratic candidates to 29 percent Republican candidates)."

I asked Bryan Bennett, the senior director of polling analytics at the Hub Project (the sponsor of the survey), for a profile of these somewhat disapprovers to try and figure out what may have caused them to vote for a Democratic candidate, even as they were "meh" on Biden. 

What they found was that these voters "pretty overwhelmingly voted for Biden in 2020 (net +40; 68 percent Biden to 28 percent Trump to 4 percent other) and had a more Democratic-leaning profile." In other words, these are the types of voters who Democrats should be getting to vote for them. 

But, had it not been for the Dobbs decision, these voters may have stayed home. The Navigator survey found that the overall electorate picked inflation as the top issue (45 percent), with abortion and jobs tied for second place at 30 percent. However, among those "somewhat disapprovers," abortion was their top issue at 41 percent, with inflation a close second at 37 percent. In other words, for the overall electorate, inflation was 15 points more important than abortion, while for 'somewhat disapprovers', abortion was four points more important than inflation. 

For the last couple of years, but especially so this year, Republicans have used a war on "woke" to rally their voters. It feels as if there's more energy on the right for defeating the ideology of "wokeness" than in defeating President Biden. Talk to a bunch of GOP voters and many, if not most, describe the president as mentally compromised. Many think the 80-year-old president is simply a puppet who is being manipulated by liberal leaders to do their bidding. This isn't to say that Republicans don't want to see Biden defeated. They do. But, Biden himself doesn't garner the same sort of intense seething and gnashing of teeth from Republicans that the prospect of another Trump term brings out in Democrats. 

One of the biggest targets for "anti-woke" legislation is transgender issues and kids. According to the website Track Trans Legislation, 38 states have seen anti-trans bills proposed in 2023, including 107 bills that focus on health care restriction for youth and 75 bills that address school/curriculum issues.  

On its face, this is an issue that not only gets support from conservatives, but also finds acceptance across a more broad cross-section of the public. Washington Post columnist David Byler wrote that the public "has recently become less open to transgender rights" quoting surveys showing that "sixty percent of American adults reported last summer that they oppose including options other than 'male' and 'female' on government documents. Fifty-eight percent favor requiring transgender athletes to compete on teams that match their sex at birth. Forty-one percent say transgender individuals should be required to use the bathroom corresponding to their sex at birth (31 percent disagree and 28 percent don't have a position). And Americans are roughly evenly split on whether public elementary schools should teach about gender identity."

One of the reasons to talk this up, of course, is not simply to motivate the base, but to lure Democrats into a fight on terrain that is more challenging for them. Democrats would rather fight Republicans on issues where they have a noted advantage, like protecting Social Security and Medicare, than on things like gender identity where their coalition is divided. 

As New York Times columnist Tom Edsall wrote this week, "[o]ne result of the changing composition of the parties has been a shift in focus to social and cultural issues. These are issues that government is often not well equipped to address but that propel political competition and escalate partisan hostility."

Yet, just because issues may have broad support doesn't mean that they are particularly salient. Answering a yes/no question on a survey doesn't tell us much more than whether someone agrees or disagrees with the topic or issue. It doesn't tell how motivating the issue may be to their vote. There's also some evidence that many independent voters are wary of seeing an overreach by legislators on trans issues. 

For example, the Economist's G. Elliot Morris noted that a recent Economist/YouGov poll found that while 58 percent of independents say "whether someone is a man or a woman is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth," almost 75 percent of independents also think there is "a little" or "a lot" of discrimination against transgender people in the US. 

The survey also found, Morris said, that "independents are generally opposed to things like puberty blockers for minors and transgender kids playing on sports teams, but also oppose banning books about trans youth."

In other words, independent voters see a line between keeping kids safe and discriminating or targeting kids. 

So, will the "war on woke" become a general election theme, or will it be sunsetted once we get past a primary and the focus goes to the economy, inflation and other topics that Biden is currently vulnerable on?

If 2022 is any guide, it is the latter. In the last election, the ad tracking firm AdImpact identified 149 ads run by Republicans that included the term "woke." Of those, 75 percent were run in the primary. 

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