By the time the midterm election campaign reached its final days, some Democrats had spent weeks fretting that their nominees had consumed far too much time talking about abortion rights at the expense of economic issues — and, potentially, their seats.
Well, about that.
Support for abortion rights now appears to be one of the big reasons Democrats defied history and staved off deep midterm losses. In a new article, my colleague Elizabeth Dias and I explain how Democrats changed the politics of an issue that’s long been most galvanizing for their opponents.
Democratic campaigns invested more heavily in abortion rights than any other topic, riding a wave of anger after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. In total, Democrats and their allies spent nearly half a billion dollars on ads mentioning abortion — more than twice what they spent on crime, and eight times as much as Republicans spent on abortion, according to AdImpact, an ad-tracking firm.
In Virginia, Minnesota, New Mexico and elsewhere, abortion rights emerged as a driving force in the midterm elections, helping Democrats win ballot measures, governor’s races and House seats.
Voters in three states — California, Vermont and highly contested Michigan — protected abortion rights in their state constitutions. In Kentucky, the Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell’s home state, voters rejected an anti-abortion amendment.
In several states where the future of abortion rights rested on the outcomes of state legislative and governor’s races, voters said the issue was pivotal, according to exit polls conducted by TV networks and Edison Research. In Pennsylvania, abortion overtook the economy as the top issue on voters’ minds. Democrats there won a Senate race, critical to their hopes of maintaining a Senate majority, as well as the governor’s mansion, and they seemed poised to flip control of the State House of Representatives.
In Michigan, where nearly half of voters said abortion was their top issue, Democrats won both chambers of the Legislature and re-elected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, giving the party a trifecta of power for the first time in 40 years.
The bottom line
Republicans had sought an end to Roe for nearly 50 years, and the issue had long motivated their core supporters more than it had their opponents’. But in this election, the court victory turned out to be a political loser. (And, as The Upshot recently reported, it hasn’t made much of a dent in the number of abortions nationwide.)
The midterm results suggest that Democrats have upended the status quo on the issue — and that abortion rights could remain a source of motivation in the next election, when the possibility of a nationwide ban is on the ballot.
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