Women continued to vote at higher rates than men in the 2022 midterm elections, as they have done for more than four decades. However, understanding why women turn out at higher rates than their male counterparts – across age and racial/ethnic groups – is at least partly context-dependent and specific to particular groups. In 2022, abortion was a mobilizing issue for young women and women of color. And it remains salient; earlier this month, women and young people turned out to oppose Ohio’s Issue 1, which sought to stymie an effort to strengthen abortion rights by making it harder to amend the state constitution. As we look forward to the 2024 elections, Democrats can tap into the energy generated by Republican attempts to restrict abortion access. If recent history is a guide, this strategy will mobilize young women and women of color voters, both essential to Democrats’ success.
Drawing from the U.S. Census Current Population Survey, CAWP’s analysis of Gender Differences in Voter Turnout shows that women overall voted at higher rates (+1.7 percentage points) than men in 2022. Among each racial and ethnic group, women also voted at higher rates: Black voters (+5.9 percentage points), Hispanic (+3.6 percentage points), and White (+1.1 percentage points). The gender gap in voter turnout – measured as the difference in the proportion of women and men who voted – was larger among Black and Hispanic voters than among white voters in 2022 – a consistent trend for the past decade. The gender gap in turnout was largest among voters aged 18-24 (+4.4 percentage points) compared to all other age groups. Women also registered to vote at the highest rate (70%) in 2022 of all other non-presidential election years since 1978.
Data suggests that abortion – a prime healthcare concern for women of color and young women – was a top voting issue for these women in 2022. According to AP VoteCast’s election survey, among the 2022 voters who said the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade was a factor in their vote, 51% of women aged 18-49 said the ruling had a major impact on their decision to vote in the 2022 elections. Larger proportions of Black (61%) and Hispanic (58%) women aged 18-49 than white women (47%) in the same age group reported that the Court ruling had a major impact on their decision to vote, findings consistent with another 2022 election survey from PerryUndem. Moreover, young women (those under 50 years old) in each of these racial groups were more likely than women aged 50 or older in the same groups to say that the Supreme Court’s ruling influenced their decision to vote.
This data indicates that prioritizing the abortion issue could help Democrats further mobilize women of color and young women who form a core part of the Democratic base and are already energized because of the Dobbs ruling. To these women voters, Dobbs and the state-level abortion restrictions that have followed present a threat to their reproductive rights and health. Though other issues such as the economy continue to rate high in all voters’ calculations, healthcare has – pre- and post-Dobbs – remained a top priority for women voters.
In 2022, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Michigan, California, and Vermont held ballot initiatives on abortion, which mobilized young women and women of color. Voters in Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana rejected Republican anti-abortion initiatives. In the 2022 primary election, voters in Kansas rejected a constitutional amendment that would have banned abortion. Women were 56% of all primary voters – a 3.5 percentage-point jump from 2018 general election turnout. Kansas also saw more voters under the age of 30 in the 2022 primary election than in the past three general elections. Women of color and young women also turned out in the 2022 election to support ballot initiatives and candidates in favor of protecting abortion rights. In Michigan, California, and Vermont, voters approved amendments that protect abortion rights in their state. In Michigan, about 37% of women aged 18-21 voted — approximately 10 percentage points higher than in the 2018 elections. Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer made abortion the center of her 2022 campaign. There were concerns that she was not talking about ‘the economy’ enough. However, her win suggests that her strategy worked. We see that among people who voted in the gubernatorial elections, Whitmer won a larger share of women voters (+2 percentage points), Black women voters (+6 percentage points), and young voters (aged 18-44) (+4 percentage points) in 2022 than in 2018.
Abortion was important even in states that did not have a related ballot initiative. For example, in Pennsylvania, Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro and Senator John Fetterman, who won in 2022, campaigned on abortion rights, highlighting the extreme language adopted and measures proposed by their Republican counterparts. In AP VoteCast’s 2022 election survey, of all voters who said the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade was a factor in their vote, a larger share of people who voted for Fetterman and Shapiro said the Supreme Court decision had a major impact on their decision to vote than those who voted for their Republican opponents.
Women and young voters fueled the recent defeat of Ohio’s Issue 1. More women (60%) than men (54%) and 62% of voters aged 18-34 voted against the proposal. A TargetSmart analysis shows that women made up 60% of voters who turned out early for the August 2023 vote despite not voting in the 2022 midterm; moreover, Black and young voters turned out at higher rates to weigh in on Issue 1 than they did in the 2022 primary election among early voters. Looking forward to 2024, Democrats can capitalize on messaging and ballot initiatives on abortion rights to motivate more young women and women of color to vote.