Abortion rights activists won a huge victory in the red state of Kansas on Tuesday. Kansans voted overwhelmingly (59% to 41%) to reject an amendment that said there was no constitutional right to an abortion in the state.
People were fired up by the ballot measure, as turnout was way up. In fact, it looked a lot more like recent general elections than a typical primary. But it wasn’t just that turnout was up, it’s who turned out.
A look at the results shows that Democrats, unlike in pretty much every other primary this year, came out in stronger numbers than Republicans, and it suggests that the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade may help narrow what has been a fairly large enthusiasm gap in favor of the Republicans ahead of the 2022 midterms.
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 900,000 votes had been counted on the amendment. Under 750,000 votes had been counted in the race for governor, combining both the Democratic and Republican primaries. This means more than 150,000 people likely came out only to vote on the abortion amendment. That’s almost 20% of all the people who voted for or against it.
Relative to 2018, turnout in Kansas’ partisan primaries was up nearly 60% this year. In all states that have statewide 2018 data available for Democratic and Republican primaries and have already held their 2022 primaries, turnout has been up by about 4%. (Note: This 4% does not include Tuesday’s Arizona and Washington primaries, as there are still a lot of votes to be counted there.)
What’s interesting when you look at the other states with really high turnout in 2022 compared with 2018 (e.g., Georgia and Pennsylvania) is that they all had competitive primaries for governor or US Senate. Kansas didn’t have either.
And while Georgia and Pennsylvania did have higher statewide turnout in their partisan primaries than Kansas, relative to 2018, Kansas had higher relative turnout when including how many people turned out for the abortion amendment.
Put another way, it’s very clear the abortion amendment drove turnout in Kansas in a way that the political environment without abortion on the ballot has not been able to.
This is especially the case with who turned out. Of all people who voted in a statewide Democratic or Republican primary in Kansas, about 37% cast a ballot in the Democratic primary. The fact that Republicans made up a larger share of the primary vote shouldn’t be a surprise given how Republican Kansas is.
What’s key here is that four years ago, 33% of Kansas primary voters who cast ballots in the major-party primaries did so on the Democratic side. In other words, Democratic-leaning voters made up a larger share of the electorate in 2022 than 2018.
This 4-point increase is the largest so far this primary season. Indeed, by my count, Oregon is the only other state where Democrats made up a larger share of the voters this year than four years ago.
So far this season, the Democratic percentage of the major-party primary votes cast has been down 7 points from 2018, overall.
The question is whether what happened with the turnout in Kansas has national implications.
The turnout pattern in Kansas jibes with what the national polling has suggested. Democrats, much more so than Republicans, have said the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has motivated them to vote. Likewise, abortion rights supporters have said it makes them more enthusiastic to vote compared with anti-abortion voters.
There are going to be a number of states (e.g., Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) where the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor will have very different views on abortion. The Kansas turnout pattern seems to suggest that abortion could be a motivating factor to get more Democrats to vote.
On other hand, there were other primary contests last night (i.e. Michigan and Missouri) where the turnout pattern did not differ substantially from the norm this cycle, with Republicans coming out in larger numbers than Democrats compared with four years ago. It’s possible that without abortion directly on the ballot, Democrats won’t be as energized.
Still, if Democrats were looking for a hopeful sign ahead of the midterms, Kansas is definitely a bright spot.