On May 2, 2022, Politico published a leaked draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The leak foreshadowed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the federal right to abortion as decided in Roe v. Wade and unleashed a wave of progressive activism, leading to significantly higher Democratic registrations and mail-in votes in Pennsylvania.
A review of post-election data demonstrates how the energy inspired by the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs contributed to Democrat’s electoral success in Pennsylvania.
From May of last year through the General Election in November, 201,517 Pennsylvanians registered to vote. Of that total, 93,105 or 46 percent registered as Democrats, compared to only 54,559 or 27 percent who registered as Republicans. This was a reversal from previous years, as Republicans had gained 75,094 more voters than Democrats from 2020 to January of 2022.
The gender gap in partisan registrations was even more stark. Women who registered to vote post-Dobbs leak (referred to herein as “newly registered”) signed up with the Democrat Party over the Republican Party by a nearly two-and-a-half to one margin (53,407 to 22,530). Newly registered Democratic women comprised 57 percent of newly registered Democratic voters and 27 percent of all newly registered voters (including unaffiliated and third parties). In fact, more women registered as Democrat than Republican (a 30,877-registration difference) than men who registered as Republican (29,839). Moreover, following the Dobbs leak, more women than men registered as Democrats in every congressional district, while the opposite was true for Republicans, as more men registered than women in every congressional district.
These new Democratic registrants were far more likely to request and return a mail-in ballot than their Republican counterparts. Newly registered Democrats requested 23,420 mail-in ballots compared to only 6,852 newly registered Republicans. Democrats returned 17,198 (73 percent) of those mail-in ballots, compared to 4,668 (68 percent) Republicans. Newly registered Democratic women returned 10,647 mail-in ballots, making up 62 percent of all newly registered and returned Democratic ballots. Newly registered Republican men and women accounted for only 4,588 returned ballots.
Accounting for all mail-in votes, regardless of when a voter registered, Democrats (822,861) far outpaced Republicans (253,240) and Independents (113,986) when it came to returning ballots. Democrats made up 69 percent of mail-in votes, compared to 21 percent for Republicans and 10 percent for Independents.
Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman’s vote by mail share was even more pronounced, as he won 78 percent of mail-in votes to Republican candidate Dr. Oz’s 19 percent. These totals reflected the mood of the electorate, as 36 percent of Pennsylvania voters said access to abortion was the most important issue to their vote (more than any other issue by eight points).
In sum, the Dobbs decision, coupled with Pennsylvania’s expanded mail-in vote system, significantly benefited Democrats, and contributed to the party’s general election successes across the Commonwealth.