Abortion: Where Americans Stand And How It Motivates Voters
By Annabella Gizzi
“The red wave is coming,” Republican leaders across the United States predicted before the 2022 midterms. The idea of Republicans winning a large number of seats wasn’t necessarily a longshot. The party opposite of the one in control tends to do well in midterm elections, and many elections analysts and polls had suggested that Republicans had a good chance of sweeping both the House and the Senate. But as the election approached and candidates wrapped up their campaigns, there was one issue that had the potential to thwart the plans of the GOP – one that maybe they had overlooked.
For years, Republicans had campaigned on the issue of abortion, saying that the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established a woman’s right to obtain an abortion, was long overdue. On June 24, 2022, their wishes were granted. The Supreme Court ruled that Roe was wrongly decided and by overturning the case, threw the issue of abortion back at the states. The Supreme Court decision was handed down just in time for prime campaigning season, giving both parties a talking point. Democrats argued that the GOP would not stop at overturning Roe and would next try to implement a national abortion ban or begin to go after other Supreme Court decisions, such as gay marriage or access to contraception. Republicans, on the other hand, bragged about their accomplishment. After all, none of this would have been possible without the help of Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP, who strategically confirmed the justices who decided the fate of Roe.
At the same time, polls were beginning to emerge showing voters were not as happy about the Supreme Court decision as Republicans might have hoped. A set of Gallup polls showed that 67 percent of adults believed that abortion should be legal in all circumstances through the first three months of pregnancy, and a remarkable 85 percent of adults believed that abortion should be legal under some circumstances. Interestingly, although abortion was believed to be a strong talking point for Republicans under the precedent of Roe, these numbers have remained consistent, based on Gallup data dating back to 1975.
To put this into perspective, let’s look at some of the Republican candidates in Senate races that were considered competitive in the 2022 election cycle. In Arizona, Blake Masters said that he supported “a federal personhood law (ideally a Constitutional amendment) that recognizes that unborn babies are human beings that may not be killed.” (Per NBC News, this language was later removed from his website.) Across the country in Georgia, Herschel Walker stated that he supported the state’s six-week abortion ban, a stance that got him into trouble after he was credibly accused of paying for his ex-girlfriend’s abortion. This trend continued in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Nevada. The Republican candidates running in these states held extreme views on abortion that did not align with what the majority of voters wanted. The question then became, were they too extreme?
On election day, FiveThirtyEight’s final prediction for the 2022 midterms was released. They rated the Senate as a toss-up, noting that Republicans were slightly favored to win. They rated the House as solid Republican, predicting that they would win about 227-230 seats. But early results that night told a different story, and by the end of the night, the fate of the House was far from certain, and the fate of the Senate was almost completely certain – Democrats were going to keep the Senate. Eventually, Republicans did win the House, but only by a small margin. With only 221 seats, the GOP was going to have a difficult time passing legislation, and this was hardly the win they were looking for. As people started asking the question of what happened, exit polls pointed to an interesting answer: abortion. According to NBC, abortion was the driving force for Democrats and, more importantly, independent voters. Not only was it the reason voters chose one candidate over the other, but many analysts believe abortion also helped motivate people to vote in the first place. The voter turnout for the 2022 election cycle was 46 percent, and although that is nowhere near the ideal mark, comparatively, it is very high for a midterm election – the highest since the 1970 midterms.
Of course, there were other issues at play in 2022. Candidate quality played a huge part in helping Democrats get elected, but the effects of overturning Roe should not be understated. Voters, especially women, were angry. If Republicans want to retain the House and take back the Senate and the presidency in 2024, they will have to reconsider how they approach the abortion debate. It is highly unlikely that they will be able to sweep all three using the same platform and strategies they used in 2022, especially considering that voter turnout is higher in presidential election years. So far, we have not seen a major shift on abortion among 2024 Republican candidates, and time will tell if that will harm them electorally.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi! My name is Annabella and I am currently a sophomore at Marymount University where I am studying political science. During the Spring 2023 term, I had the privilege of interning with Representative Derek Kilmer and upon graduation intend to stay in DC to pursue a career in politics. When I am not in DC, you can find me in the “other Washington,” Washington state, where I am from.