The 2022 midterms saw five states put abortion access directly on the ballot. And in at least five more, the fate of abortion hinged on which candidates were elected. Now that the votes have been counted, it’s clear that American voters largely support abortion rights. But does that mean the issue will steer Democrats to victory in 2024?
Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux: The 2022 midterms were, in many ways, a referendum on abortion rights. In five states, abortion was directly on the ballot. And in at least five more, the fate of abortion access hinged on which candidates were elected.
Now the votes are in and with one exception, abortion-rights supporters basically swept the board.
Michigan, Vermont, and California had ballot measures that would make abortion a protected right under their state’s constitution — and those measures passed in all three states. Kentucky also had a ballot measure on abortion — one that explicitly stated that abortion is not protected by the state constitution. That measure failed. So while abortion remains largely illegal in the state, legal challenges to a Kentucky abortion ban can move forward.
Then there were the elections where abortion wasn’t directly on the ballot, but the outcome still had really important implications for abortion laws in the state. Take Pennsylvania, where the Republican-held state legislature ha repeatedly tried to pass stricter abortion laws, even before Roe v. Wade was overturned. The only thing standing in their way has been a veto from the Democratic governor. So all eyes have been on the governor’s race. But not only did the Democratic candidate, Josh Shapiro, win the election, he won by a fourteen-point margin. And instead of Republicans comfortably hanging onto the legislature – which is how we expected things to go – Democrats took control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in twelve years.
We saw a similar story in other states. In North Carolina, Republicans didn’t manage to win a supermajority in the state House that would allow them to override the Democratic governor’s veto for an abortion ban – even though they only needed to flip three seats to pull it off.
In Wisconsin, Democrats Tony Evers and Josh Kaul held onto their seats as governor and attorney general, ensuring that their legal challenge to the state’s nineteenth-century abortion ban will keep moving forward.
And in Arizona, where the legality of another nineteenth-century abortion ban is being worked out by the courts, Democrat Katie Hobbs pulled off a surprise win in the governor’s race. However, the Arizona attorney general’s race is headed to a mandatory recount due to the closeness of the race.
The exception was Georgia, where Republican Governor Brian Kemp cruised to victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams. And that, to be honest, was the state where the connection between the governor’s race and the fate of abortion rights was most tenuous.
It turns out that Americans are actually pretty sophisticated about understanding when abortion rights are threatened and when their vote will make a big difference. Michigan and Pennsylvania were probably the two states where the outcome of the midterms had the biggest impact on abortion access – and those were also the only two states with exit polls where voters were more likely to say that abortion was their top voting issue in those polls, rather than inflation. Meanwhile, Democrats tried to run on abortion in New York – a state where abortion rights are largely protected. Instead, Republicans flipped four US House seats, which basically handed them control of the chamber.
And in red states, concern about abortion didn’t necessarily translate into support for Democratic candidates. Fifty-two percent of Kentucky voters rejected the ballot measure, which is pretty striking for a state where a solid majority of residents think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. But that result didn’t boost Democrats elsewhere on the ticket. Republican incumbent Senator Rand Paul easily beat over his Democratic challenger, who ended up getting only 38 percent of the vote. That’s 14 percentage points lower than the share that voted to reject the anti-abortion amendment.
So yes, you are almost certainly going to be hearing a lot more about abortion rights going forward. But this isn’t a slam-dunk issue for Democrats – and they definitely shouldn’t assume that it will help their candidates everywhere in 2024.