West Virginia 2022 election: Abortion ban fallout fails to materialize for Democrats

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by Mountain State Spotlight. Get stories like this delivered to your email inbox once a week; sign up for the free newsletter at https://mountainstatespotlight.org/newsletter

By Ellie Heffernan, Mountain State Spotlight

When West Virginia lawmakers passed a near-total abortion ban in September, a small but vocal group of protesters at the state Capitol vowed retribution. They predicted the ban, which followed the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, would motivate voters to kick out Republican lawmakers.

In some places, that may have been the case. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont added abortion protection to their state constitutions. In Kentucky and Montana, voters rejected anti-abortion amendments. 

But in West Virginia, many lawmakers that supported abortion rights lost big. In state Senate races, the only Democratic win was for Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, the sole Democrat in that chamber to support the ban. Democratic Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, a longtime vocal supporter of abortion rights, lost her bid for a Senate seat to Republican Mike Oliverio, who is anti-abortion. 

Across the country, high youth turnout tipped some races to Democrats. But not in West Virginia.

There were 49% fewer young West Virginians voting early and absentee during this year’s election, compared with the 2018 midterms. For voters of all other ages, that decline was just 22%, according to data from the West Virginia Secretary of State. And a typical young West Virginian was five times less likely to vote early or absentee than folks from other age groups. 

Detailed election day turnout data isn’t available yet. But there’s no evidence to suggest young West Virginians vote in disproportionately high numbers on Election Day, compared to early voting.

Matt Jacobsmeier, a political science professor at West Virginia University who specializes in political behavior, said he’s pretty confident that a lack of competitive races contributed to voter apathy. 

“People might be more likely to vote if they think there’s a decent chance that their vote is actually going to make a difference in the outcome of the election,” Jacobsmeier said. “And when one party is so dominant in the state, a lot of people unfortunately might be thinking, well, you know, my vote is not going to do much, and they stay home for that reason.”

Even if folks were motivated to vote for pro-abortion rights candidates, many of the statehouse races between Democrats and Republicans weren’t considered competitive, Jacobsmeier said. And in over a fifth of last Tuesday’s statehouse races, no Democrat ran.

Chairman of the state Democratic Party Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said Republican redistricting also helped make races less competitive. He said that’s part of the reason the party struggled to find candidates to run in certain races.

“The places where we felt were even less competitive, it’s a lot to ask somebody out there and run when the cards are stacked against them,” he said. 

But just making sure that a Democrat runs in each race likely won’t be enough to motivate more young people — and West Virginians of all ages to turn out. Platforms matter too. 

Hayley Boso, a Democratic voter and graphic designer from Morgantown, said she believes the party didn’t focus enough on progressive issues that could unify working-class West Virginians. 

“It’s become a party of catering to the wealthy people, and not focusing on the workers,” Boso said. “I feel like ever since the 90s, whenever Bill Clinton won, they’ve tried to pivot to be just like Republicans, but with abortions and no guns. And that’s clearly not working. But they won’t give that up.”

Jacobsmeier said survey research from the Pew Research Center shows abortion wasn’t always the most important issue on registered voters’ minds, even among Democrats. Overall, those surveyed cared more about the economy, gun policy, education and health care. Abortion was more of a priority among Democrats, but it still wasn’t right at the top of their list. 

While statehouse Republicans were able to overcome most Democratic opposition to pass this year’s abortion ban, adding any additional restrictions will be easier next time around, now that the party controls 118 of the 134 seats in the House and Senate.

Reach reporter Ellie Heffernan at ellieheffernan@mountainstatespotlight.org



Local youth selected to participate in prestigious U.S. Senate Youth program’s Washington Week event

BUCKHANNON – In 2023, the state of West Virginia will send two representatives to the United States Senate Youth Program during the Washington Week event, which takes place March 4-11 in Washington, D.C.  And one of those representatives is a […]

Become a premium member to unlock immediate access to this story — and thousands more. Free trial available! Signing up is easy — just tap the button below.

Buckhannon: Then & Now – West’s Pool

Buckhannon: Then & Now. Join us in showcasing Upshur County throughout history and today. With gloomy fall weather around us, let’s take a look back in time to much warmer, summer weather! Pictured below was

Buckhannon Public Works Board approves several changes to streets across the city

BUCKHANNON – The Consolidated Public Works Board tackled several changes to streets and traffic flow around the City of Buckhannon during their meeting Wednesday morning One potential change involves the stoplight at the Upshur County Courthouse — the CPWB voted […]

Become a premium member to unlock immediate access to this story — and thousands more. Free trial available! Signing up is easy — just tap the button below.


Basketball ‘Cats tumble to Battlers, 78-62

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Wesleyan (1-8, 1-4) men’s basketball team fell in a MEC matchup versus Alderson Broaddus (2-6, 2-3) Wednesday night by a 78-62 score in Rockefeller Center. WVWC LeadersD`Vante Rivera had

Witt has 27 points for Lady ‘Cats in 76-71 setback to ABU

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Wesleyan (1-5, 0-5) women`s basketball team was defeated in a MEC matchup versus Alderson Broaddus (3-6, 2-3) by a 76-71 score Wednesday night in Rockefeller center. WVWC LeadersEmma Witt

Swim Bucs take fifth in 12-team field at Morgantown

MORGANTOWN – Preston Bennett won two events and Carter Zuliani one and a relay team was victorious for the Buckhannon-Upshur swim Bucs at the 12-team Mohawk Invitational this past Saturday at Mylan Park. Bennett claimed the 200-yard IM with a […]

Become a premium member to unlock immediate access to this story — and thousands more. Free trial available! Signing up is easy — just tap the button below.

Lady Buc swimmers place fifth at Mohawk Invitational

MORGANTOWN – The Buckhannon-Upshur Lady Buc swimmers finished fifth in a loaded 12-team field in the Mohawk Invitational at Mylan Park last Saturday. The Lady Bucs scored 171 points winning two individual events by Cadence Vincent. Fairmont Senior won the […]

Become a premium member to unlock immediate access to this story — and thousands more. Free trial available! Signing up is easy — just tap the button below.


It’s not too late to get your flu shot

Hurricane, W.Va. – This week is National Influenza Vaccination Week, a critical opportunity to remind everyone that there is still time to help protect themselves and their loved ones from influenza this season by getting