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The loss of abortion rights brought voters out to the polls this year

Abigail Spanberger
Steve Helber
FILE - U.S. Rep Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., right, talks with a supporter at an early voting location, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, in Stafford, Va.

What issues were driving voters to the polls this year?

Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger held on to her northern Virginia congressional seat after leaning into the fight for abortion rights, hitting the issue early and often. That ended up being a winning strategy. But Congresswoman Elaine Luria's decision to lean into her role on the January 6th Committee may not have worked out quite as well.

Jatia Wrighten at Virginia Commonwealth University says the loss of abortion rights is a much more visceral campaign issue.

"The threat to democracy message is much more muddled and the overturning of Roe v Wade made it much more clear for someone like Spanberger to run on that," Wrighten says. "And so I think this is why you see the differences in their outcomes."

Nick Goedert at Virginia Tech says access to abortion is a much more immediate and less abstract concern than threats to democracy. But he says the new version of this Virginia Beach congressional district tilts even more heavily Republican now than it did before, giving Republican Jen Kiggans a significant advantage.

"I'm not sure that's really the sole explanation for it," Goedert explains. "In that if you can look at the underlying partisanship of those two districts, and especially the way that those two districts were changed in redistricting, that will explain a lot of the results."

Spanberger's victory on reproductive freedom was part of a trend this election cycle. Voters in Kentucky, Michigan and even Kansas all approved ballot measures supporting abortion rights.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.