Leading up to the midterm elections, mainstream media spent weeks warning Democrats of the perils of running on abortion this year following the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. However, on Tuesday, voters supporting reproductive rights came out in droves, showing mainstream pundits that abortion was, in fact, an extremely important issue for them in the election.
This Election Day, voters across the country decided in favor of abortion protections wherever they were on the ballot. California, Vermont, and Michigan each passed constitutional amendments enshrining the right to an abortion. Even in Montana and Kentucky, two considerably red states, voters rejected anti-abortion ballot measures. Exit polls from the midterm elections have also shown that abortion is one of the top issues affecting Americans’ voting decisions, with 27% of voters nationwide indicating abortion mattered most to them, trailing only 5% behind inflation as a primary concern. Exit polls in Pennsylvania, a key swing state which faced hotly contested gubernatorial and senatorial races, showed abortion was the top issue for voters, leading inflation by 7%. These results fall in line with the resoundingly clear disapproval of the Supreme Court’s decision to curb abortion protections in June, a ruling that 70% of Americans opposed.
Guests and network personalities on CNN and MSNBC’s Morning Joe both spent the days leading up to the midterms disparaging and questioning Democrats’ decisions to campaign on reproductive rights instead of choosing to focus on the economy and crime. Even though CNN published an online analysis of polling last month acknowledging that abortion was a “key motivator” for the midterms, its TV shows continued to hammer home the point that the Democrats were wasting their opportunity to go toe-to-toe with the GOP on issues like inflation. This is part of a larger pattern of both CNN and Morning Joe promoting and regurgitating right-wing talking points as a consistent part of their rhetoric.
- CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp complained on November 8 that while she understood that Democrats “wanted to ride the Roe wave,” they didn’t “make the most of the opportunity” to deal with the economy and crime.
- Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough said on November 8 that while abortion may be among the factors motivating voters, the top issue is “definitely going to be crime in places” that will decide the midterms.
- On the November 7 edition of CNN Newsroom, former Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Charlie Dent claimed that for midterm voters, “the bottom line is abortion at the moment does not seem to be the top of mind issue for most people. It is still more economy, jobs, inflation, crime, those things.”
- On November 7, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger said that suburban women “care about inflation, and inflation and the economy — when you look at the polling — who do you trust to handle the economy better? It’s Republicans.” She then said that Democrats “could have turned it around” if they had focused more on those issues and health care rather than “a Republican issue set.”
- CNN’s new morning show, This Morning, hosted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on November 3 to talk about the upcoming midterms, and co-anchor Don Lemon asked her whether Democrats running on abortion “is the right messaging.”
- On November 2, This Morning co-anchor Poppy Harlow downplayed the importance of a host of issues to voters in comparison to the economy and said Democrats have kept running on abortion “maybe to their demise.” When Lemon pointed out that abortion “is the second most important issue on that list,” Harlow agreed but continued that “it’s just a big gap” for voters.
- Morning Joe co-host Willie Geist stated on October 28 that “if you look at polling again and again and again” for the top concerns among voters, abortion is “not even close” to the economy, which leads “by wide, wide margins over all of those issues, and now it's crime and the border and immigration.” Guest Sam Stein did push back on Geist’s claims, saying, “I wouldn’t dismiss abortion and protection of democracy.” “Not at all,” Geist replied.
Mainstream print and online outlets also spent the weeks leading up to Election Day diminishing the power of abortion in bringing voters to the polls, instead chastising Democrats for campaigning on restoring reproductive rights. Across outlets including CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, opinion pieces by conservatives hammered the claim that inflation and crime, not abortion, would matter most to voters, resulting in a supposed wave of Republican victories that failed to materialize on Election Day.
- A November 7 CNN analysis called the weeks before midterms Democrats’ “nightmare scenario” because of the supposed waning popularity of abortion, leading to “Republicans staging a gleeful referendum on Joe Biden’s struggling presidency and failure to tame inflation.” The piece claimed, “Hopes that Democrats could use the Supreme Court’s overturning of the right to an abortion and a flurry of legislative wins to stave off the classic midterm election rout of a party in power are now a memory.”
- In a November 3 op-ed for Bloomberg, National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru criticized Democratic strategists who advocated for aggressively backing abortion support as a midterms strategy, writing that “so far, ‘Roevember’ doesn't seem to be shaping up quite the way Democrats hoped.” Ponnuru argued that pundits read too far into Kansas’ overwhelming rebuke of an anti-abortion amendment in August and claimed that “the public is ambivalent about abortion,” despite noting that public polling shows the opposite.
- Writing for his online column The Point! on November 2, CNN pundit Chris Cillizza reduced abortion to a political horse race, questioning if Democrats placed “a losing bet” on the issue. Cillizza suggested that prioritizing abortion in campaign messaging is a “gamble” that could be “a massive mistake” and continued to express skepticism about the persuasive power of abortion rights in boosting turnout compared to the “primacy of the economy in voters’ minds,” ignoring that 1 in 3 American women lack access to abortion.
- In an October 26 opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, frequent Fox News guest and Republican consultant Karl Rove insisted that President Joe Biden’s focus on restoring abortion access as a “top priority” was a “losing midterm message for Democrats.” Rove fixated on polling that showed abortion was low-ranking in a list of voter concerns, calling Democrats’ insistence that abortion is on the line this election an “uninspiring, misleading and out-of-touch closing message.”
- Conservative columnist Marc Thiessen published a September 27 piece in The Washington Post alleging that there’s “not a chance” that abortion will bolster Democrats in the midterm elections. According to Thiessen, only “affluent liberal elites” have the “luxury of voting on abortion.” Thiessen insisted that the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision reversing the national right to an abortion “could not have come at a better moment for the GOP,” minimizing the drastic impacts on those losing critical health care and asserting, “If that red wave does not materialize, don’t blame the Supreme Court.”