‘It’s all about abortion’: How women clawed back ground for the Democrats

Strategists say US midterm elections results have forced a reckoning over which issues are most important to voters

Like Republican senatorial candidate Dr Mehmet Oz, Ece Bal, a 28-year-old who works in healthcare in Philadelphia, is the child of Turkish immigrants to the US.

But on the Wednesday morning following Oz’s defeat in Pennsylvania’s midterm elections, Bal pointed to a critical difference that led her to back his opponent, Democrat John Fetterman.

“Abortion stances are absolutely important to me,” she said. “Fetterman is very much pro-choice and did not want Roe [vs Wade] overturned, whereas Oz did. As a young female living in the US, I simply never want to see it happen that abortion access becomes restricted in the state that I live in.”

In the early hours of Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s election results indicated that Bal was not alone, as Democrats in the state swept to victory in closely fought Senate and governors’ races.


Fetterman, the brash, hoodie-wearing Democrat, pulled off an unexpectedly strong victory over former TV physician Oz, despite suffering a stroke early in the campaign, while Democrat Josh Shapiro won the state’s governor’s race by a wide margin over Trump-backed Doug Mastriano.

The impact of abortion on critical midterm races came as a surprise to many pundits, who had predicted the supreme court’s decision to overturn Roe vs Wade, the ruling that enshrined the constitutional right to the procedure, would have faded in voters’ minds since the summer.

Yet from Michigan to Pennsylvania, exit polls and early vote tallies showed that women voters were more galvanised over the issue than pre-election polling had suggested, with many indicating that abortion was second only to concerns over the economy.

In Pennsylvania, 35 per cent of registered voters surveyed in the state’s Senate race said they were “angry” about the supreme court’s decision in June to overturn Roe vs Wade, according to data from AP VoteCast, a nationwide survey of about 115,000 registered voters.

In the same race, women in the state preferred Fetterman over Oz by 53 per cent to 45 per cent, according to the AP’s survey of registered voters, while college-educated women voted for Fetterman over Oz by 60 per cent to 39 per cent.

“I appreciate my rights and those for my children,” said Susannah Bien-Gund, a mother of two young boys, who had voted for Democratic candidates in the elections.

“I’m relieved for Pennsylvania,” she added, referring to Fetterman’s win.

Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, a non-partisan non-profit, said voters on Tuesday had “rejected the false narrative that too often treats women and the issues they care about as separate from the economy”.

“We have long said that women, who are the majority voting bloc and a major driver of our economy, do not live their lives in silos,” Frye said in a statement. “They do not see their economic security as separate from their ability to control their reproductive health.”

The influence of the female vote was also felt in other races across the country on Tuesday – as well as in other statewide votes on social issues.

Democrats saw a similar trend to Pennsylvania in Michigan, where the party secured a majority in the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years, and also held on in the governor and attorney-general’s races as well as a closely contested congressional district.

According to AP VoteCast data, women voted 56 per cent to 43 per cent for Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer over her Republican competitor Tudor Dixon, another female candidate, while men broke 52 per cent to 47 per cent.

The divide was even starker among surveyed college-educated women, 62 per cent of whom preferred Whitmer compared with 37 per cent who backed Dixon. Thirty-six per cent of all surveyed registered voters in Michigan said they were “angry” about Roe vs Wade being overturned.

Women also tipped the balance in other statewide ballot measures on Tuesday. In Michigan, California and Vermont, voters chose to enshrine the right to abortion in their state constitutions, while those in more conservative Kentucky rejected an amendment that would have blocked any right to abortion at state level.

The better than expected results for Democrats have raised hopes that abortion could be the issue that ultimately determines Senate control – particularly in the Georgia Senate run-off race, which is now scheduled for early December after the Republican and Democratic candidates failed to clear the required 50 per cent threshold.

While Republicans had pointed to soaring inflation and president Joe Biden’s low approval rating in advance of Tuesday’s vote, Democratic strategists say the results have now forced a reckoning over which issues are most salient to voters.

Tom Bonier, a Democratic strategist and the chief executive of TargetSmart, a data and polling firm, said that even as far back as September, women had been registering to vote in significantly higher numbers than usual in states where abortion was on the ballot.

“Democrats seem to have outperformed by the widest margins in the states where we were seeing the biggest gender gaps in registration since [Roe vs Wade was overturned],” he said.

In Georgia, Carrie, a 20-something voter buying lunch in midtown Atlanta, said she had concerns about the economy, but had decided to cast a vote for Democrat Raphael Warnock and would do so again in the run-off.

“When you go to the grocery store and things cost a bit more, that doesn’t help,” she said. “But it’s all about abortion.”

Rachel Marschke, another Atlanta voter for Warnock, agreed. “Here, this election is about women’s rights in general,” she said. “I hear people talking about gun control and voting rights in general, but it’s definitely abortion.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022