Democrats appeared to be heading into the 2022 midterms with a perceived deficit in voter enthusiasm driven by inflation and an unpopular incumbent. But in recent months, the party’s prospects for the midterm elections have improved dramatically, and many political strategists attribute the change, at least in part, to voter outrage over the court’s ruling. supreme to cancel Roe vs. Wade.
Many of these strategists — like Simon Rosenberg and James Carville — believe the threat of further restrictions on abortion access if the GOP gains control of Congress, governor’s mansions and state homes will boost Democratic turnout. in autumn. Several recent elections – including in the 19th in New York, where the Democratic winner has centered his campaign on abortion access and the resounding rejection of a constitutional amendment that would have allowed state lawmakers to further restrict access to abortion in Kansas — were seen as early signs that Democrats are set to fare better than expected in the fall.
Voter registration is another factor to consider when making medium-term forecasts. Tom Bonier, CEO of political data company TargetSmart, analyzed publicly available election files for each state. And he says data shows that young people (especially young women) are registering to vote at a significantly higher rate in states where abortion rights are under threat since the Supreme Court’s June ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That includes Kansas, where women registered to vote at more than double the rate of men in the weeks between the decision and the Aug. 2 referendum on the constitutional amendment.
I spoke with Bonier about his findings and what they mean for the Democrats’ midterm prospects. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
I know it’s only been a few months, but I was hoping you could take a step back and give us an idea of what we know, and we don’t know how yet Dobbs affects voter registration.
Kansas was the first state I looked at to see what happened before the ballot initiative there. Voter registration data lags slightly, depending on how and when the state reports it. But we were able to get enough data from Kansas, basically looking at registered voters before Dobbs and after Dobbsand found that women made up 69% of new enrollees afterDobbs and up to the election of the ballot initiative, which was crazy. I have never seen anything like it.
Generally, voter registration is split pretty close to 50-50. It varies a little by state, but not much. To see a period of time over several weeks where women made up nearly 70% of registered voters – I’ve never seen anything like it.
The Dobbs decision engaged Kansas women to an unprecedented degree.
This chart shows the percentage of new enrollees in the state that were female (7-day average). Note the spike after the leaked Dobbs decision and the huge jump after the Supreme Court issued it. pic.twitter.com/pvi3WpuR86
—Tom Bonier (@tbonier) August 3, 2022
Then we started looking at other states. There’s no state that comes close to Kansas in terms of the size of the gender gap, which makes sense. I mean, Kansas seems almost impossible. But in Kansas, they also had an immediate initiative to vote on the constitutional amendment as a referendum on the future of choice in the state. It would therefore make sense for women to be more energetic there than they would be in other states, because the trend that seems to be continuing is that increases in female enrollment appear to be more closely tied to states where the choice is more at risk or it is more relevant to specific elections this year.
To me, that’s interesting because I think people might assume that it’s going to be mostly a blue state, big city phenomenon. And that’s just not the case. Kansas is the number one state [in terms of the gender gap], Idaho is number two, Louisiana is in the top five. But there are also states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, which also have significant gender gaps. We’re talking more like 12 points, not 40 points, like you had in Kansas. But still, it’s substantial.
Here are the states with the largest gender gap among new enrollees since the Dobbs decision. It is not just a blue state phenomenon. In fact, it is more pronounced in states where the choice is more risky or has been eliminated by the decision. pic.twitter.com/X4Kj2oG550
—Tom Bonier (@tbonier) August 17, 2022
Do we have any idea who these women are signing up? And the men?
They are mostly younger women. In Kansas, more than half of women who registered to vote after Dobbs were under 25 — 52%. You also see increases in states among younger men. He just doesn’t follow. This is certainly a question that seems to energize young voters in general, but more young women than men.
Texas was interesting because I thought you would see a similar gender gap, given the political dynamics there. And what was interesting is that women and men enroll at almost equal rates in Texas. But what we have seen are much higher registration rates among young voters in general. To me, that doesn’t mean women aren’t energized – it just suggests that young women and men in Texas seem to be energized around Dobbs and register at high rates.
Do Democrats have more to gain here from these new registrations? The fact that women are registering at a higher rate suggests that this is a very important issue, but not necessarily what their position is.
In every state I’ve looked at so far, when you look at voters under 25 who have registered since Dobbsthen compare them to voters under 25 who registered this year before Dobbs, they are even more democratic. You see the same pattern with women who sign up afterDobbs compared to those who registered before Dobbs. They are more likely to be registered as Democrats by quite a wide margin.
If you want to look at it from a partisan perspective, all the data we’re seeing at this point suggests that the rise in registrations since Dobbs is entirely in favor of the Democrats.
You talked about this in terms of younger voters and women who represent a larger share of newly registered voters. I also wonder to what extent we are seeing an increase in the number of registrations in general, or if it is difficult to measure.
For our analysis, we look at what percentage of new entrants are men and women, [Democrat] against Republican or unaffiliated or independent. Generally, as we get closer to the elections and until we reach the registration deadlines in both states, we will see more people register in general. So just seeing more women registering to vote in and of itself doesn’t make sense – but seeing women occupying a larger share of the registers does.
This is not necessarily relevant as we are going to have more new voters registering, and therefore there will be this wave of new voters voting in November which may impact the outcome of the election. Certainly, there is potential for this to some extent. But even in high-turnout presidential elections, new voters typically make up only a relatively small share of the electorate, perhaps 7-15 percent of voters. In a midterm election, it will usually be a smaller share.
What interests me is that when you see surges of enthusiasm reflected in listing historically, it’s almost always reflected in surges of enthusiasm and participation among these groups in general. So it stands to reason that what we are seeing is not only relevant because it means more women have the right to vote, but it indicates that women in general are much more sensitive to this election and therefore much more likely to vote.
We saw it in 2018, when young voters were registering at a much higher rate than they had in the previous two terms. And sure enough, young voters nearly doubled their vote share between 2014 and 2018, so the data we see here is similar.