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Abortion rights proved to be more important than GOP predicted

When making a list of things Republicans got wrong this year, public support for reproductive rights belongs near the top of the list.

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After the historic leak at the U.S. Supreme Court in the spring, as the public came to realize that Republican-appointed justices were poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, Democrats immediately seized on the issue as one of the most pressing matters in the midterm elections.

Republicans responded by effectively shrugging their shoulders.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told NPR that he expected voters’ interests to lie elsewhere. A day earlier, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said something similar, telling The Wall Street Journal, “I just don’t think this is going to be the big political issue everybody thinks it is.”

When making a list of things the GOP got wrong this year, public support for reproductive rights belongs near the top of the list. As my MSNBC colleague Evette Dionne noted this morning:

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June was consequential for women voters in the 2022 midterm elections, as exit polls are suggesting. The NBC News exit poll finds that 27% of respondents said abortion was their top issue in deciding how they voted. It was second only to inflation (31%) and far outweighed immigration (10%) and gun control (11%).

Those same NBC News exit polls found that 61% of voters described themselves as dissatisfied or angry about the Supreme Court overturning Roe — and 71% of them voted for Democratic candidates.

What’s more, let’s not forget that abortion rights were literally on the ballot in several states, and the electorate’s verdict was in keeping with the larger pattern. NBC News reported this morning:

Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont adopted ballot measures to protect access to abortion in their states Tuesday, following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Voters in Kentucky and Montana, meanwhile, voted on anti-abortion ballot measures, but NBC News has not yet projected whether those initiatives will pass.

Note, while NBC News hasn’t yet called the votes in Kentucky and Montana, current vote tallies suggest reproductive rights advocates are well positioned to succeed.

When Ron Johnson said, “I just don’t think this is going to be the big political issue everybody thinks it is,” he had this exactly backwards.

We’ll obviously never know for sure, but it seems more than fair to argue that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization jolted the electorate, engaged the Democratic base, and changed the nature of the midterm elections.

Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, told The New York Times, “I do think Dobbs transformed this election. There’s pretty good evidence that it shook things up.”