Democrats have spent more than $124 million on abortion ads. Will it pay off?
In the lead-up to the midterm elections—and in the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade—Democrats have sought to frame abortion rights as an essential issue. From congressional campaigns to gubernatorial races, Democratic candidates seem to be betting that this message will galvanize voters to turn out and vote for them.
The focus on abortion access is perhaps most clear from the enormous sum of money Democrats have sunk into advertising this year. The Associated Press estimated that Democrats in all offices had spent $124 million on TV abortion ads between January and September 2022. And an analysis by the Washington Post found that since Labor Day, Democrats have invested another $103 million into abortion ads for congressional races across the country—far more than they’ve spent on any other issue. That outsize spending is most noticeable in close races like the one in Arizona, where Senator Mark Kelly has made abortion a central issue in his campaign ads and has repeatedly attacked his opponent for supporting a federal abortion ban.
It’s a stark contrast to both Democratic messaging on abortion prior to the Supreme Court’s decision and the way Republicans are approaching the issue. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, Republican candidates have, for the most part, steered clear of discussing abortion at all, opting instead to focus on issues like the economy and crime. According to the Washington Post, since early September, total ad spend in congressional races has been comparable across both parties. But Republicans have spent just $4 million on abortion ads, as compared to ads about taxes ($89 million) and crime ($49 million)—and Joe Biden ($63 million).
Earlier this fall, it seemed like hammering on abortion rights might be enough to give Democrats an advantage going into the election, despite the odds stacked against them in a midterm year. In September, a New York Times/Siena College poll showed Democrats gaining ground with voters in congressional races. But more recent polling has indicated that they’re increasingly vulnerable on economic issues, which have dominated Republican campaigns and are top of mind for many voters amid rising inflation. In close Senate races, they could still have an edge, in part due to abortion-related messaging from Democrats like Kelly. With the election just a week away, however, it’s not clear how their expensive bet on abortion will pan out.