What's at Stake in the 2022 Midterm Elections

With abortion rights, democracy, and many more critical issues on the ballot, there’s no room for apathy this election cycle.

people voting in the 2022 election
(Image credit: Art by Jonelle Afurong)

Over the past two years, a culmination of many Americans’ greatest fears have come to fruition: a public health crisis, the loss of reproductive freedom, attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, a looming recession. When the aforementioned events have already occurred, it can feel difficult to find the motivation to vote this fall. But it's true what they say: the 2022 midterm elections (and every election going forward) really are consequential—especially when right-wing extremism is on the rise and manifesting through policies across the country.

“I don't think apathy is an option right now because the only way we get better outcomes from our leadership is by picking better leaders. Especially on the state and local level, we have seen the impact that these folks can have,” Amanda Litman, co-founder of Run for Something, tells Marie Claire. “While Congress might not be able to act right now on abortion access, DAs and county leaders and city elected officials and even school board members can make a real difference on reproductive health care access, on schools, on transportation funding, on housing. Most of the things that are really making people mad right now are things that can be solved by electing better local leaders.” 

In August, the Pew Research Center polled 7,647 adults to find out which issues are top of mind for voters in the 2022 midterms—the elections that will determine who controls Congress for the second half of President Biden’s term (and will largely influence his success), as well as the leaders in charge at the state and local levels across the country. The research found that for congressional elections, the economy is most important to voters followed by gun policy, violent crime, health care, voting policies, education, Supreme Court appointments, and abortion. A 19th News/SurveyMonkey poll conducted in August among a national sample of 20,799 adults showed that preserving democracy is also a top voting motivator for Americans. 

All of this research proves that there are a wide range of issues important to different people depending on their lived experiences and a dramatic difference in response to them between Democrats and Republicans. If you’re wondering how the 2022 midterm elections will impact you as you make a plan to vote, we outlined some of the key issues at stake in the midterms, below. We’ll continue to update this piece with new information leading up to Election Day on November 8, 2022.

Abortion Rights

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer, which ended the constitutional right to have an abortion, reproductive freedom—or lack thereof—is now being determined by governors and state legislatures, and has become a leading issue this election cycle. Conservative states like Arizona, Kentucky, Texas, and Missouri have already banned abortion with no exception for rape or incest, and plenty more Republican-led states have legislation in the works and/or in effect to restrict abortion access. The consequences are detrimental and varied, from abortion clinics and hospitals being thrown into chaos to people being forced to travel out of state for care (many who can’t afford to do so in the first place) to putting mothers at risk of death in the event of an ectopic pregnancy

“Who we elect in November will decide what access to abortion looks like across the country,” explains Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes. “Should the Senate go into the hands of anti-abortion politicians—should Mitch McConnell win the majority in the Senate and we lose the House—they have already committed to and are working towards banning abortion nationwide. When people go to vote this November, they are deciding whether or not they want reproductive freedom in their state or not. That is on the line.”

The Biden administration promised to codify Roe (a.k.a. pass a federal law that would offer the same protections Roe did) if two additional Democrats are elected to the Senate and Democrats keep control of the House. Meanwhile, Republicans promise to continue their efforts to ban abortion, as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced a bill in September to ban abortion nationwide after 15 weeks. In July, President Biden signed an executive order that protects access to contraception, but abortion rights activists are still concerned that contraception could be next should conservative leaders determine any loopholes. 

To find out if the politicians on your ballot are pro-choice, #VoteProChoice has a guide to pro-choice candidates up and down the ballot. Cosmopolitan also published a piece on the five midterms races that matter most for abortion access. If you plan to do your own research on specific candidates, know that most candidates on your ballot who are pro-choice are bold and unapologetic about their stance on abortion access. If they aren’t, they’re likely anti-choice or in the process of shifting their stance, like Arizona Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters recently did. Lawson advises voters not to be fooled by politicians who are trying to change their record. 

The Environment

The climate crisis is here, and it reportedly contributed to an additional 10 percent of rainfall during Hurricane Ian. Despite being a bipartisan issue that affects everyone, climate change has remained a contentious debate in Congress with dire effects for communities across the globe. 

There is hope, though: In August, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes the most significant climate change legislation we’ve seen—an investment of $369 billion in climate solutions and environmental justice. As Earthjustice noted in its brief following the passage of the bill, “We knew there would be painful provisions in any bill that could get Sen. Joe Manchin’s support, and the bill contains some troubling giveaways to fossil fuel interests that will cause undue harm to communities in the Gulf and Alaska. As a whole, however, it represents a huge step forward in the fight to preserve a livable planet and is one we need to take while we have the chance.” No Republican Senator voted for the bill, despite some of them previously warning of climate danger.

To put it simply, ignoring the climate crisis is not an option. In order to pass bold legislation that would reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, it’s important to vote for politicians that don’t receive campaign money from corporate interests, like fossil fuel companies. Though campaign finance data isn’t typically revealed until after an election cycle, you can view this Public Citizen report that shows which members of Congress have a history of receiving money from oil and gas companies. Local governments also play a big role in combatting the climate crisis, so you should keep an eye on who’s running for city council in your district and whether or not they plan to take action. 

Gun Policy

If you live in America, it will come as no surprise that there have been over 300 mass shootings in 2022 alone, and 45,222 people died in 2020 from gun-related injuries. Nobody is “bulletproof” from gun violence, and women in particular have a lot at stake when it comes to fighting against gun violence. This year, Congress passed the first federal legislation on gun violence in over 25 years (it had 15 Republicans sign on to it) and hundreds of laws have been passed at the state and local levels, which signals that Democrats and Republicans can come together on the issue. 

“When you go back a decade ago when we started doing this work, about a quarter of all Democrats in Congress had an A rating from the NRA. Today, none do,” says Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “That's because of the work that we have done, creating relationships on both sides of the aisle and showing lawmakers that there's an alternative—they can vote their conscience, they can do the right thing, they can carry out the will of their constituents. We need every single lawmaker to be on the right side of this issue.”

Gun owners also play a critical role in the gun policy discussion. “Most gun owners are responsible and the polling shows [that] they agree with things such as background checks, red flag laws, disarming domestic abusers, and storing your guns responsibly,” explains Watts. “Many of our volunteers are gun owners or their partners are gun owners. There are 400 million guns in this country. This is simply about restoring the responsibilities that should go along with gun rights.”

You can visit GunSenseVoter.org to see where candidates on your ballot stand on the issue. Additionally, you can find a list of Moms Demand Action volunteers running for office that are endorsed by the organization for the 2022 midterm elections. 

LGBTQ+ Rights

In the past few years, there has been a staggering increase in attacks on trans rights and the passage of dangerous bills targeting LGBTQ+ youth—with no signs of them stopping. These bills are originating in conservative state legislatures and aim to prevent gender-affirming care, ban trans youth from participating in sports, prevent gender-affirming surgery, ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity, and more. The 2022 midterm elections are an opportunity to fight back against these attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. 

As Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, told Marie Claire last year, “There's been a very well-funded, well-coordinated [anti-trans] movement. Lots of the funding comes from the far anti-LGBT right, but lots of the momentum comes from the emerging anti-trans 'feminist class' and the self-victimized public intellectuals who have made it their life's work to debate trans existence." 

Marriage equality is also on the ballot in 2022. The leaked Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision signaled that Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, could be overturned next by the conservative Supreme Court majority. If this were to be the case, most states would immediately ban same-sex marriage. To prevent this from happening, the House passed the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act, but it won’t be voted on in the Senate until after the midterms, so it’s important to find out whether or not the Senate candidate on your ballot supports the bill. Bonus if they’re one of the record number of LGBTQ+ people running for Congress this year.

The Economy

As the country deals with inflation and a looming recession, the economy is top of mind for Americans in the 2022 midterm elections. However, when researching candidates, it’s important to remember that policy makers did not cause inflation. Inflation was caused by global and public health issues, like supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19, port shutdowns, a shift of spending from services to goods, and the war in Ukraine. Knowing this, Economic Policy Institute President Heidi Shierholz advises voters to elect candidates based on their willingness to boost living standards and eliminate inequalities, which directly impacts the economy. 

“[Elected] policy makers don't have the ability to really affect inflation. They do have the ability to pass policies that ameliorate the harms of high inflation for the people who are hardest hit,” she says. “So things like raising the minimum wage, the expansions of the child tax credit which were in the relief and recovery packages. Those are the kinds of things that policy makers can do for the people who are getting hit hardest by inflation until inflation comes down. And it is.”

Still not convinced? Esquire asked GOP Senate candidates how they'd reportedly "fix" inflation, and the responses lacked substantial, immediate solutions. Meanwhile, union organizing is at its highest point of approval since 1965. State and local governments, not just the federal government, have the ability to build worker power (the Economic Policy Institute has outlined some of the ways they can do so). That starts with electing leaders in the midterms who can enact these policies. 

Voting Rights and Democracy

Democracy is on the ballot this November. The “big lie” spearheaded by former President Trump, which falsely claims that there was voter and election fraud during the 2020 election and led to an insurrection, has dramatically increased election misinformation and disinformation, as well as voters’ distrust in democracy. Politicians who do not believe in election integrity (60 percent of voters will have an election denier on the ballot this fall) have used this disinformation as an excuse to pass voter suppression laws that disproportionately harm people of color. A democracy is only a democracy when everyone is able to vote in free and fair elections

“What we have seen over the last couple of years are state legislatures introducing and enacting laws that make it harder to vote, and in some instances, enacting laws that make it easier for partisan actors to interfere in election processes,” explains Eliza Sweren-Becker, counsel in the Voting Rights & Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “So, democracy is on the ballot with respect to state lawmakers and also with respect to Congress. Those are elected officials that have a say in how our elections and how our democracy works.”

It's important to note that voter suppression can occur in many different forms before, during, and after voting. Think: anything from strict voter ID laws (check to see what ID may be required for you on Election Day) to voter roll purges. To avoid any potential voting complications on Election Day, check your voter registration status today by visiting RocktheVote.org, clicking “Check Your Registration Status,” and filling out the form with your personal details. 

Additionally, book bans are part of the wider threat to democracy. Conservative politicians have made it their mission not only to control women’s bodies, but the ability to learn the truth about America’s racist past. The 2022 midterms are the first major elections held since these book bans have gone into effect in communities across the country. The candidates elected in the 2022 midterms (especially school board and city council members) will determine whether or not these bans continue. 

Public Health

Despite President Biden’s recent declaration that the pandemic is over, the pandemic is, in fact, not over. This statement will have a dramatic effect on federal COVID-19 spending that has provided free vaccines, at-home testing, and additional public health resources throughout the past two years. Plus, it will likely prevent the reimplementation of mask mandates that control the spread of the virus. This harms everyone, but especially immunocompromised people who are high-risk and cannot perform the same daily activities as people who aren’t immunocompromised. 

That said, public health is on the ballot. To keep yourself, your family, and those around you healthy, it's critical to elect leaders who understand how many people are dying from COVID on a daily basis and are suffering from the effects of long COVID. These candidates will follow the science to enact policies that allow people to remain as safe and healthy as possible. Ultimately, these politicians will make their stance on public health clear if they want the support of their constituents, including the disability community–many of whom feel “disposable” by the current administration and other elected officials. 


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s inhumane treatment of people seeking asylum is an example of how state and local leaders, in addition to Congress, play a critical role in immigration policy—an issue voters care about deeply in the 2022 midterm elections. Republicans have reignited their messaging around immigration, which includes extremist language while discussing strict border enforcement policies, deportations, and plans for states to “build their own walls.” 

“We know that there's going to be a really clear difference between the candidates on the ballot when it comes to immigration,” says Bri Gillis, vice president of political strategy for the National Immigration Law Center Immigrant Justice Fund. “On one hand, you have extremist Republicans who are incredibly out of line with where the mainstream public and the electorate is on immigrants' rights. And on the other side, you have Democrats who are pursuing solutions for a more just, humane, and fair immigration system, which is really what the voters want to see.”

Some of these Democratic solutions include defending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), creating pathways to citizenship, unifying families, and affirming the right to seek asylum. Democrats’ full push on immigration will reportedly occur after the midterms, but it's important to see exactly where candidates stand on the issue in the meantime. 

Rachel Epstein

Rachel Epstein is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in New York City. Most recently, she was the Managing Editor at Coveteur, where she oversaw the site’s day-to-day editorial operations. Previously, she was an editor at Marie Claire, where she wrote and edited culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also launched and managed the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game or finding a new coffee shop.