It Wasn’t Just ‘the Economy Stupid’—It Was Abortion

In the 2022 midterms, abortion was too important to women’s lives to win a Republican victory, and it was long enough to send a message about the future.

Mother votes with child at Fox Theater on Nov. 8, 2022 in Atlanta, Ga. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

This article was first published by The Brookings Institution.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a nearly 50-year-old precedent and return the issue of abortion to the states sent shockwaves across the country. Over the summer months, the meaning of the decision was a boon for Democrats in a year that has made the midterm elections impossible. In some states, female voter registration has increased. But by Labor Day common sense had returned. No, insisted many experts, abortion will not bring more votes, but inflation.

How wrong they were!

The first sign came early on election night in CNN exit polls. In an obvious surprise for the on-air talent, abortion came in closest to inflation: 31 percent said inflation was their biggest problem, but 27 percent said abortion was. Even before the late polls showed abortion dropping to third or fourth place or disappearing, there are a number of reasons why the issue has not been resolved.

First, there are more women in America, they are evenly distributed across the country, and they vote more often than men—as the following table from our colleague Bill Frey here at Brookings shows.

This year was no different. According to a CNN poll, women made up 52 percent of the vote and men 48 percent. That is a big difference.

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Let’s assume that the number of people who won in 2022 could be the same as those who voted in 2018 – about 116 million votes. The women’s share of that vote? 60,320,000.

Exit polls also show that 53 percent of women voted Democratic. That’s 31,969,600 votes—a huge number. Hillary Clinton, who clearly shares our frustration with those who have limited women’s suffrage, tweeted out the following sarcastic comment: “It is clear that women enjoy having civil rights, and we vote.”

Besides the growth of women’s suffrage is a powerful issue. Unlike men, women spend most of their lives thinking about reproduction. He has no choice. Even in the 21st century, pregnancy is still risky business, and women’s health care is not the domain of government officials. Not surprisingly, women think abortion is more important than men. As the election season drew to a close, and many Republicans faced health issues, some backtracked and/or softened their previous lines on abortion.

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The importance of this issue is best seen in the Senate debate in Pennsylvania. Although the Democrat, John Fetterman, suspended because he was recovering from a severe stroke, his opponent, Mehmet Oz, a Republican, was able to say what should have been the most damaging on abortion: “I need women, doctors. and political leaders” to make these decisions. .

The bluntness of the comment went a long way to distracting voters from the issue of Fetterman’s health and reminded many that the government should not be making those decisions.

No party promotes inflation and inflation… But abortion is different. One party is in favor of it being legal in most or all cases and the other is not.

Finally, abortion is very different from inflation. Inflation is disliked by both parties—no party is against inflation. In fact, if we’ve learned anything about politics in our time it’s that voters see almost every issue through their lens. Democrats who are worried about inflation may think that Joe Biden is fighting them and the Republicans that Joe Biden started.

But abortion is different. One party is in favor of it being legal in most or all cases and the other is not.

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If you combine the growth of the women’s vote, the strength of the issue and the fact that, unlike inflation or the economy, the two parties have a big difference on this issue, you get a strong driver of the vote.

There were five states that had abortion referendums on the ballot and in every state — including the red state of Kentucky — pro-choice won. In Michigan, where the abortion referendum was won by 13.4 percent, it is not surprising to think that it helped the Democrats retain several congressional seats. And in Pennsylvania, where abortion raised inflation by 9 points, Democrats picked up their only Senate seat so far.

The following table shows the number of voters in each key state and how they voted on inflation and abortion. In most cases the abortion was secondary; in Michigan and Pennsylvania it was well ahead of inflation.

In Pennsylvania, where abortion raised inflation by 9 points, Democrats picked up their only Senate seat so far.

(Brookings Institute, results according to CNN polls)

At the heart of the 2022 midterms, then, is an issue that matters in women’s lives, powerful enough to steal victory from Republicans, and strong enough to send a message about the future.


US democracy is in dire straits – from the end of abortion rights, the lack of paid and parental leave, the rise in maternal mortality, and the attack on trans health. Left unchecked, these challenges will lead to widening gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Mrs. she has been creating feminist journalism – reporting, rebelling and telling the truth from the front, promoting the Equal Rights Movement, and establishing the stories of those most affected. With all that is at stake in equality, we are extending our commitment to the next 50 years. Also, we need your help, Help Mrs. today is a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 a month, you’ll receive a printed magazine along with our electronic newsletters, newsletters, and invitations to. Mrs. Studio events and podcasts. Thank you for your honesty and your brutality.


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