Abortion Was Front of Mind for Midterm Voters

Thousands gathered in Washington, D.C.—pictured—and other cities on Oct. 8, 2022, to rally for reproductive rights, one month before the midterm elections. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP via Getty Images)

Results continue to trickle in from the midterms. With Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s win in Nevada, the Senate will officially remain under Democratic control, with the opportunity to pick up another seat in the Georgia runoff between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R). The future of the U.S. House remains unclear; in the end, Republicans may end up with a slight majority. Still, it’s clear the “red tsunami” predicted in the run up to the elections never materialized.

As pollsters and pundits continue to make sense of the midterm aftermath, they are finally recognizing that the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and red state legislatures banning abortions, were decisive issues in this election.

This, after weeks of predicting that abortion had faded in voters’ minds with inflation, cost of living, crime, immigration and other traditionally-Republican issues emerging as the driving forces in 2022. The mostly all-male group of national media pollsters predicted the Democrats would lose at least 20 seats in the House with as many as 40 to 60—as has been the case in past midterm elections for the party in power.

Ms. published several reports before the election on the likely impact of abortion on the midterms, and what needs to happen going forward to secure our fundamental right to autonomy. In October 2022, Ms. and the Feminist Majority Foundation released polling reports among likely voters in nine battleground states conducted by Lake Research Partners. Survey questions to these critical voters were about their priorities issues in the upcoming election including how they ranked abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment. A companion Ms. poll of young voters included many never-before-asked questions on the impact of Dobbs and how abortion related to choices for college, jobs, places to live and more.

The Ms. polls found that among young women voters (in battleground states), abortion and equal rights were the most important and highly motivating issues in determining their vote. And among women voters of all ages in the nine states, abortion and women’s rights were tied with inflation and rising prices in determining their votes. Significant gender gaps favoring Democrats were found across all racial and age groups.

In well over half the races, it was the issue of abortion that increased turnout of Democrats and younger voters.

Celinda Lake

Exit polls proved us right, showing that in Tuesday’s midterm elections, abortion was at the front of the minds of voters across the country. And sure enough, voters made their voices heard: In the five states where abortion measures were on the ballot—California, Michigan, Vermont, Kentucky and Montana—in resounding numbers voters cast their ballots to secure the right to reproductive autonomy. 

These results echoed Kansas’ primary earlier this year, when voters showed up in droves to reject a ballot measure that would have allowed the Kansas legislature to criminalize abortion in the state. “Women voters let the country know that the vote to protect abortion access earlier this year in Kansas was not a fluke,” said Amanda Brown Lierman, executive director of Supermajority, in the wake of last week’s results.

Across the board Democratic candidates and progressive ballot measures far outperformed expectations set by the pundits, who had all but declared that abortion no longer was the driving factor in voters’ decisions—eclipsed by concerns over inflation and crime. 

Equality was on the ballot in more ways than one, this election. Voters in Nevada approved an Equal Rights Amendment in their state constitution—which in addition to prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and race, goes a step further and explicitly protects people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

“It was abortion that made a huge difference in race after race,” Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, a top Democratic polling firm, told Ms.’s Linda Burstyn. “In well over half the races, it was the issue of abortion that increased turnout of Democrats and younger voters.”

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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Katherine Spillar is the executive director of Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms., where she oversees editorial content and the Ms. in the Classroom program.