On Tuesday, Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher told MSNBC's Chuck Todd that the GOP's conventional efforts to split fiscally liberal and socially conservative voters are no longer as effective as they were back when the first George Bush's campaign launched their infamous "Willie Horton" ad — and that Republican attempts to recreate those tactics could backfire.
"The country is dramatically changing since then," said Belcher. "You now have majorities who are for gay marriage. And the polling is fairly clear on, the vast majority of Americans don't want Roe v. Wade overturned."
"The numbers are not that close," agreed Todd. "And sometimes we cover the issue as if it is a close call."
"Particularly if you look at independent voters, you know, 60 percent of independent voters want it legal in most cases," said Belcher. "So the numbers are clearly not on their side. Even when you look a pathway to citizenship, another culture war there, poll numbers are clearly on the Democratic side. So I think the culture wars now would be different, because America is changing and it's changing dramatically. Some of those culture wedges don't wedge the way they used to."
Democrats, said Todd, should understand the limitation of their ability to win over voters by simply ignoring Republican extremism on social issues and pursuing an economic message. Trump's win in 2016, he noted, "was a cultural message. No economic plan [Hillary Clinton] could have come up with that would have won her Pennsylvania."
"I agree! But that's part of the problem, Chuck, to this whole conversation," said Belcher. "Democrats are still talking about an economic message and not talking about our values ... If Republicans want to make this about a woman's choice and a woman's right to choose an abortion, I think Democrats would be silly not to take them on, looking at the numbers."
"And also, and this is really important, for the first time in 2018, Democrats won college-educated voters on the backs of college-educated women, which means the suburbs became more competitive," added Belcher. "If those suburban white women think for one moment that Republicans are going to be the party that overturns Roe v. Wade, it will be a monumental shift."
That backlash, said Belcher, might even be enough to help Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), widely considered the most vulnerable incumbent senator going into 2020, to hold his seat.
"I think it gives Democrats an opening throughout the Bible Belt," said Belcher. "If you can put Pat Robertson in your ad, that's a new kind of day for Democrats. If you can have a conversation, particularly with suburban-leaning Republican women about this issue in a way that you haven't been able to before, all of a sudden you can, in fact, put — there are segments of a Republican-leaning group of voters and white educated voters than I think you put in play."