The 2022 midterm elections — and what the data really says

WASHINGTON, D.C. — MSNBC's Steve Kornacki spoke about a shift he was seeing in the electorate heading into November after the Aug. 23 primary and special elections in New York, when passionately pro-choice Democrat Pat Ryan trounced his opponent. Until very recently, the only real data that could illustrate the impact of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision was a Kansas ballot measure that would amend the state’s constitution to make it easy to ban abortion outright in the state. On August 2, 2022, voters resoundingly rejected this amendment.

Weeks later, data is now starting to roll in showing two major trends for 2022 midterm elections that could prevent Republicans from getting the "red wave" they were banking on.

Republican Margaret Hoover told CNN's Jim Acosta on Sunday that the Supreme Court Dobbs decision would have a huge impact on the midterms.

"When this happened, when Roe v. Wade was overturned, I talked to Republican consultant after Republican consultant, who said, 'Meh, it's already baked in the cake. This isn't going to hurt the Republicans. This will not be an issue in the election,'" said Hoover. "I'm a pro-choice Republican. There are not many of us left. I sensed they were wrong and they pointed to data that didn't add up. You are seeing that now. You see how motivated suburban women are. This is an impact this is playing in November."

For decades, Republicans have relied on polling about voters’ personal beliefs about abortion. While many Americans consider themselves personally "pro-life," they also support the freedom for others to choose. That difference is what’s playing out in ways that, as Hoover indicated, Republicans appear to have neglected.

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An analysis by Targetsmart Insights shows that more women than men are registering to vote ahead of the November midterm. And that women in Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan are disproportionately registering as Democrats.

According to the numbers, "62 percent of women registering since Dobbs registered as Democrats, 15 percent as Republicans." Meanwhile, the most striking factor is that 54 percent of those registering as Democrats were younger than 25. Young voters are very rarely calculated in polling analysis ahead of elections because they have no track record of voting yet. Most polls consider "likely voters" based on those who have voted previously.

In Kansas, 40 percent more women were registered to vote than men in the summer primary, resulting in 70 percent of new registrants being women at a time when choice was on the ballot.

This trend is happening in Pennsylvania, too, where gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races are considered to be possible Democratic wins. The Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that of the women who have registered since the Supreme Court ruling, there are four Democrats for every Republican.

The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that most voters support choice, but it's a point that Republicans never thought people would vote on as a specific issue. The Journal explained, "more than half of voters said the issue made them more likely to cast ballots in the midterm elections; majorities oppose 6-week and 15-week abortion bans." Only 6 percent said abortion should be illegal in all cases, which is a decrease from 11 percent in March.

That's what Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) said she's finding, also. Speaking to MSNBC on Monday after a slew of Labor Day parades and events, she claimed her campaign recently got a poll back only to reveal that abortion was the top issue for voters in her district — and that the economy was the third most important issue.

While Americans appear to support abortion rights, and women are coming out in droves to register and vote, there are still a number of Americans who aren't accustomed to participating in elections.

Courier News is the parent company of The Gander, which tested the impact of boosting a single report to the least politically engaged people who don't read the news.

Raw Story spoke with Data for Progress, which partnered with Courier on the project, and the group explained that they began with a commercially purchased list of disengaged SMS respondents for an experiment. They then offered the group a survey to gauge their participation level. Data for Progress split the respondents into a control group and a second group, which was served a single story on The Gander.

"Given Michigan is one of the American states with what are known as trigger laws — laws that would criminalize abortion immediately upon an overturning of Roe—we conducted the initial wave of our survey specifically on the question of re-criminalizing abortion under the 1931 Michigan trigger law," the report explained. "The survey was conducted from June 14 to June 23. The Supreme Court handed down its official decision on June 24, 2022, which matched the wording and spirit of the leaked decision."

There's a kind of social dynamic revealed in past Data for Progress experiments that shows respondents tend to be more emphatic about their beliefs in a survey when they're shown others agree with them. What The Gander's experiment did was take it further, by pushing that information to people in the test group.

The ad appeared four to five times a week for three weeks boosting the story "Six in 10 Michiganders Oppose Re-Criminalizing Abortion. Here’s What One of Them Has to Say." After three weeks, the group was given the survey on abortion again. What they found is that people that were served the ad increased their opposition to criminalizing abortion. What was also found, however, is that the control group, which didn't see the ad and only heard the news organically from the rest of the world, also saw an increase in opposition to criminalizing abortion.

Both groups show the impact of the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision. Roughly half of the population of Michigan is comprised of low-turnout voters who aren't typically reading the news frequently, the Courier explained. Boosting one article confirming their beliefs could not only make people more strident in their beliefs, but it could move more of them to act.

While abortion is part of the midterms equation, it isn't the whole story.

The other piece of the 2022 election impact comes from controversial, far-right Republican candidates. The 2022 election should have been an opportunity for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to regain power and return to the GOP strategy of obstructionism he employed during former President Barack Obama's two terms. Now, even he admits GOP Senate control isn’t likely now.

Speaking to reporters last month, McConnell confessed there was a "candidate-quality problem." Candidates recruited or loyal to former President Donald Trump like Mehmet Oz, Blake Masters, J.D. Vance, Herschel Walker, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Ted Budd are all anti-choice, MAGA Republicans with views far outside of the mainstream.

In the Dobbs opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas announced that issues like abortion are what he sees as the beginning of rolling back many other laws. The Aug. 2022 Ipsos poll showed that there is a supermajority when it comes to supporting birth control, IUDs, emergency contraception like Plan B and other protections. So, Republicans ready to outlaw abortion at conception or seeking to ban forms of birth control are forcing middle-of-the-road Americans away from the GOP.

Masters and Walker want to make abortion illegal across the country, though Masters has now scrubbed his website of any mention of abortion. Oz said that life begins at conception, which would make birth control like IUDs illegal because they prevent implantation. Johnson told pregnant people to suck it up and leave the state. Vance compared abortion to slavery, and went even further about women's rights, suggesting that women being abused should be forced to stay with their abuser "for the sake of their kids." Ted Budd sponsored legislation in Congress that would criminalize abortion and put doctors in jail.

But it isn't only about reproductive rights and freedoms. Not only are they far outside of mainstream American beliefs, but they're also unable to discuss other issues that matter to Americans in a way that connects to people. The candidates appear to be running on a MAGA platform saying that the 2020 election was "rigged" and saying "Joe Biden is evil."

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) have spent the year attempting to label LGBTQ people. The Washington Post used Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape data to calculate that 90 percent of congressional districts support marriage rights for same-sex couples. There were 45 districts in which fewer than half of the residents opposed same-sex marriage. It doesn't mean they want to make it illegal, however. Some of them simply had no opinion.

When Republicans began traveling their states and fighting in primaries the top issues involved inflation and gas prices. Republicans were so committed to those issues, it's all they've talked about for most of the year. The problem with choosing those issues to base a campaign on is that the second inflation is eased and gas prices go down, they've lost their issues.

The Fox network and Republicans like Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) have talked about inflation, but it has been a global problem since the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted the supply chain and workforce. The Federal Reserve is making moves to increase interest rates in an effort to slow inflation. But at the same time, the job situation in the U.S. is booming. Economists feared a recession was on the horizon, but month after month the jobs report shows considerable growth.

Meanwhile, polls show "jobs and the economy" as a top issue, without splicing out which is important. During the COVID-19 crisis, Trump lost over 22 million jobs leaving office with a record not seen since Herbert Hoover, Fortune said at the time. Biden has been able to build back over 10 million with 3.7 percent unemployment. But Biden and Democrats haven't been great about taking victory laps in the election year.

As Labor Day passes, campaigns typically kick into high gear. After a series of legislative successes, Democrats are able to cite progress to help issues that Republicans have been using for reasons they should be elected. Many of them voted against bills passed. The economy is one of the few issues Republicans generally address.

Another top issue for Americans in the most recent surveys is "crime," which Republican candidates are using to promote the need for more police. Drilling down into the data, however, "crime" isn't what Republican candidates seem to think it is. Americans aren't scared of "the caravans" Fox News reports are coming just before the elections. The Aug. 2022 Ipsos poll showed that gun violence is the piece of the concern about crime that isn't being addressed by the GOP candidates.

64 percent of Republicans consider "crime" to be a problem, not including gun violence. That doesn't include 29 percent of Republicans who believe the "crime" that is a problem involves guns. This is in stark contrast to 79 percent of Democrats who see the crime problem to be related to gun violence. Independents similarly agree that guns are at fault for the crime problem, to the tune of 56 percent. Just 35 percent of Americans see non-gun-related crime to be the problem.

Americans continue to support stricter gun safety measures, but Republican candidates refuse to concede to assault weapons bans, stricter background checks and related issues. Campaigning on crime without addressing guns isn't going to help Republicans win over Independent voters — but their dedication to the gun industry puts them in a difficult position.

Republicans are also running up against a world in which their promotion of police and chants of "Blue Lives Matter" are fading away, thanks to both the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and the search warrant being executed at Donald Trump's resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Trump has spent the past month railing against the FBI and the Trump Republicans have dutifully followed suit calling for the elimination of the FBI. Republicans spent much of 2020 saying that Democrats wanted to "defund the police," only to now be advocating defunding the police. Trump-promoted candidates are also stuck between defending his supporters who rioted against Congress on Jan. 6 and the police they beat and attacked.

The other top issues for Americans are the environment, civil rights, democracy, political extremism and voting rights — which are all issues where Republicans fall far outside the mainstream.

So, while abortion is certainly one of the top issues in 2022, it remains one of many issues where Republicans are simply too far right of the American people.

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