Feminism and the Momentum of Mobilization: A Comparison of the 2018 and 2022 Midterm Elections


The Dobbs v Jackson Supreme Court decision took away the constitutional right to abortion in the summer of 2022, several months prior to that year’s upcoming midterm elections. The result of that election, which was not the overwhelmingly Republican victory that was originally predicted, is often attributed to the major moment of feminist mobilization that followed the Dobbs event. A Vox article by Zack Beauchamp cites the Supreme Court as the primary reason for the Republican party’s failure to make the strides they had hoped during this midterm. The idea is that as the right to abortion became threatened, those in support of its legality took to the polls in response. In order to explore this account, I examine the mobilization of voters in 2022 using a unique battery of questions on political participation in the Grinnell College National Poll and report on work that I conducted with Grinnell College student Maddi Shinall. Our research shows that self-identification as a feminist correlated with greater political participation, but interestingly, views on abortion did not.

It is also noteworthy that the 2022 election also followed the COVID-19 pandemic, which created major shifts in the global social and political landscapes. The way that people organized appeared to change drastically. For that reason, we also examine whether the form of political mobilization changed from 2018 to 2022. Prior to the pandemic, the modern feminist movement had seen a past decade full of public causes, from the #MeToo movement to the continual fight for medical autonomy. A year before the 2018 midterms, 3 to 5 million people gathered around the nation to participate in the first Women’s March in response to Donald Trump’s use of misogynistic rhetoric. The 2018 and 2022 midterms, as such, are two elections that both appeared to include major mobilizations of feminist voters but exist within entirely different political and social contexts. Building on work conducted by Georgia Rawhouser-Mylet in 2018, we find that in both cases, self-identification as a feminist was correlated with greater political participation, but the form of political participation shifted notably from 2018 to 2022, with a greater emphasis on direct, in-person participation in the earlier election.


The Grinnell College National Poll (GNCP) is a telephone interview poll conducted on behalf of Grinnell College by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, IA. The August-September 2018 and the September 2022 GNCP ask similar questions about group identification and recent forms of political participation. Each poll featured a question that asked participants to select whether they identified with a certain political identity, including feminist, libertarian, and Black Lives Matter supporter among others. This is a binary yes or no answer.

Each poll also featured a battery of possible modes of political participation, asking respondents to indicate their recent participation in these activities. The four types featured in both years are attendance of a rally, contact of an elected official, donation of money to a campaign, and helping register others to vote. It is important to note that the answer choices varied slightly between years, so we selected the most comparable responses. In 2018, the answer scale is 0 “Would not do” 1 “Expect to do in the near future” and 2 “Have done in the past few years.” The answer scale in 2022, however, reads 0 “Haven’t done and don’t intend to do” 1 “Not done, intend to do this year” and 2 “Done this year.” All individual measures are subsequently on a 0 to 2 scale.

We additionally created an overall participation index that combines all four measures of participation. The scale is from 0 to 8, where 8 means that the respondent has recently completed all four types of participation, and 0 means that they have no intention of doing any of the four.


To test the idea that abortion was a mobilizing topic beyond feminist identity in the 2022 election, we compared two regression models. In the first, we estimated the relationship between participation in that year, a respondent’s view on abortion, and a demographic battery. In the second, we added feminist self-identification to the model. The demographic battery is meant to hold constant factors we already know to be important to one’s involvement in the political sphere, like level of education or party identity.

Figure 1. Political Participation Regressed on View on Abortion, & Feminist Identification and View on Abortion

Figure 1 shows political participation in 2022 regressed on view on abortion and the demographic battery with the second model including feminist self-identification. This question asks respondents whether they view abortion as a right. As such, a positive answer reflects support for abortion. In the model without feminist self-identification, view on abortion is not significant with a p-value of 0.159. When we look to the model that does include feminist self-identification, feminist identity is a significant factor in predicting political participation. Views on abortion in this model, however, are still not significant with a p-value of 0.122. In both models, abortion has a negative coefficient. While neither are significant enough to generalize, that implies that within our sample, those in support of abortion were actually slightly less likely to participate politically. As a result, the mobilization that we see among feminists in 2022 cannot be attributed to the salience of this single issue, rather identification with the larger movement.

We additionally regressed participation in both 2018 and 2022 on feminist self-identification and a demographic battery in order to compare the relationship between feminism and political participation in the two elections. Feminism is a movement that uses social strategies and political activism to reexamine existing societal gender roles and the way they breed inequality, particularly for women. In this way, feminism is an inherently political identity. Historically, feminists utilized a variety of forms of participation. We can look to the Suffragettes who staged marches in Washington D.C. in the early 1900s or the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970 as historical examples of feminist political participation. Looking to modern day, we want to understand how ‘feminist’ as a label continues to evolve as a political identity, and how that has had to interact with modern legislative changes.

Figure 2. Participation Index Regressed on Feminist Identification and Demographic Battery in 2018 and 2022.

Figure 2 represents the predicted effect of feminist self-identification on participation, essentially whether the variation in one can be attributed to the variation in the other. The node represents the mean predicted effect and the line represents the range that we are 95% confident the effect is within. If that interval does not include zero, then we consider the variable a significant predictor. As we can see, feminist identification is a significant predictor of political participation in both years. In 2018, the size of that effect is 0.984, meaning that if someone identifies as a feminist, we predict that they move up nearly a full point on our participation index. This is significant at the 99.9% level with a p-value of 0.000. In 2022, however, the effect size is 0.389, almost one third of the 2018 effect, and is significant at the lower level of 95% with a p-value of 0.030.

When we break down the participation index into our individual four measures in separate regressions not displayed here, we see an even more nuanced pattern of changed mobilization. In 2018, feminist self-identification was a significant indicator of rally attendance, helping others register to vote, and donation of money to a campaign. In 2022, however, feminist identification is only a significant indicator of donation of money to a campaign. We additionally see that while contact of an elected official to vote is not significant in either year, it is actually far closer to being significant in 2022 than in 2018. The measures that are more significant in 2018, including rally attendance and helping others register to vote, are more involved and person-oriented means of getting involved. Post-pandemic, in 2022, we can see the focus shift to methods of participation like donating money to a campaign and contacting an elected official.


Our findings raise interesting questions about the 2022 midterms. Abortion, as the hot button issue of that electoral cycle, is often attributed as one of the reasons that Republicans were not successful in creating a ‘red wave.’ What we see from our results, however, is that view on abortion is not uniquely significant in determining one’s political participation. Instead, feminist self-identification is an important indicator of participation independent of views on abortion. Additionally, by comparing these results to those of the 2018 election, we are able to see that feminist mobilization in general is not comparatively strong in 2022. We see a greater focus on direct participation in 2018, as measures of rally attendance and helping others register to vote are significant only in the earlier model. Particularly in the case of attending a rally, these modes of participation are more people and public oriented. This falls in line not only with the aforementioned #MeToo movement, which utilized social media and public organizing strategies, but with the pre-pandemic layout of political participation. Events like the Women’s March require in person participation usually in the company of many other people. Public strategies diminished during the pandemic, and according to our results, they have not bounced back since. In 2022, we see that donation to a campaign is the only individually significant measure and that contact of an elected official is more significant than in 2018. These two methods of participation can be accomplished from the safety of one’s home. Our research follows two primary conclusions. First, identification as a feminist is associated with higher levels of political participation in both elections, but its magnitude and form changed from 2018 to 2022. Second, we fail to find evidence that views on abortion were an important determining factor of political participation in the 2022 midterms. Comparing these findings to the rhetoric that abortion was the issue that decided the 2022 midterms, we see that this conventional wisdom may not be backed up by actual participatory behavior. A broad concern with women’s rights, rather than the specific topic of abortion itself, appears to be the more powerful factor associated with participating in the 2022 election.


I would like to thank Peter Hanson, the professor of POL 295 – Public Attitudes on American Democracy, the class for which this research was originally completed. I would also like to thank Maddi Shinall, the partner with whom I initially performed this research.

Eleanor Corbin ’24 is a Political Science major with a concentration in Statistics at Grinnell College

Note: this post was edited for publication by Associate Professor Peter Hanson.



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