A massive flood of money into campaigns fighting over a Kansas ballot question about abortion rights will matter most by driving voter turnout, political scientists say.
The two main campaigns slugging it out over whether to strip abortion rights from the Kansas Constitution reported raising a combined $11.2 million in the run-up to the vote on Aug. 2.
Michael Smith, a political scientist for Emporia State University, said it may be too difficult for the campaigns to change many voters’ minds on abortion rights. But the funds could raise the profile of the election and draw more voters than the state usually sees for a primary.
“Persuasion is a tough nut to crack when you’re dealing with abortion rights,” Smith said. “So, a lot of it is the turnout ground game.”
Abortion access in Kansas is currently protected by a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found the state constitution includes the right to an abortion. That ruling spurred the Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature to push for the change on the ballot. It chose the August primary, when turnout tends to be low and Republican conservatives, in particular, have typically made strong showings.
The proposed amendment would say the Kansas Constitution does not protect access to abortion.
The Value Them Both coalition, the main campaign supporting the amendment, reported this week that it raised nearly $4.7 million this year. Much of that funding came from Catholic organizations that have long advocated against abortion.
The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas contributed close to $2.5 million, more than half of the campaign's total fundraising. The archdiocese previously contributed $500,000 to the group in 2021.
Meanwhile, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom reported raising $6.5 million — almost $2 million more — for its opposition to the amendment. Contributions of more than $1 million came from Planned Parenthood and Sixteen Thirty Fund, a political funding group that supports progressive causes.
That led the contributions to surpass all the state’s previous fundraising for a state constitutional ballot measure, which are devoted to more mundane issues like an amendment in 2012 that changed how boats are taxed.
“They didn’t raise $10 million for that,” Smith said, “or anything close.”
Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn federal abortion rights supercharged the effort in Kansas. Both campaigns received significant funding from out-of-state individuals and national groups because it will be the first state to vote on abortion rights since the federal ruling.
The two groups have so far spent roughly the same amount. Value Them Both has spent about $5.4 million, while Kansas for Constitutional Freedom has spent $5.8 million.
Beatty said the vast majority of that money is being spent on TV advertising to help clarify each group’s messaging. The reports show Kansans for Constitutional Freedom spent more than $4 million on a single “media buy and production costs.”
“Both sides clearly have more than enough money in a relatively small state like Kansas to get their message out,” Beatty said.
That messaging has become a contentious issue in the race. Opponents to the amendment argue it will set Kansas on course to a total ban on abortion Supporters argue the amendment does not ban abortion and merely places abortion policy in the hands of state lawmakers.
But the ads will also be drivers in turnout, Beatty said, which will be a significant factor in what appears to be a tight race. According to a poll conducted by the firm co/efficient and published by FiveThirtyEight, 47% of primary voters plan to support the amendment, while 43% plan to vote against it.
Normally, the August vote in Kansas is used by Republicans and Democrats to nominate candidates for office. But the ballot measure turned the election into a statewide vote, including unaffiliated voters who normally don’t vote during the primary.
“Their turnout is possibly going to be very important,” Beatty said.
Dylan Lysen reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.