Progressives waking up Wednesday morning after a heated midterm election season were greeted by a perhaps surprising amount of good news. From Michigan to Montana, Americans cast their ballots and affirmed their support for core progressive values: the right to bodily autonomy, respect and dignity for workers, a fair, democratic system, and more.
While votes are still being counted and control of the House of Representatives and Senate remain undecided, advocates for equity and justice have already won victories that they can point to and celebrate. Here are some of the most notable progressive wins from the 2022 midterm elections:
1. Abortion Rights Upheld in Five of Five States
When Kansas voters sent a resounding message in August to defend abortion rights, many wondered if that outcome could be replicated elsewhere. The answer came on Tuesday night: absolutely. Americans across the nation listed abortion as a top, motivating priority when voting, and in three states, voters enshrined abortion rights into law.
- In Michigan, the citizen-led Proposal 3 passed, creating a state constitutional right to reproductive freedom, including “all matters relating to pregnancy.” It marks the first time since the Supreme Court’s decision stripping abortion rights that voters successfully overturned a pre-existing abortion ban—a move that advocates across the country see as a model.
- In Vermont, voters overwhelmingly passed Proposal 5, which will amend the state constitution to guarantee “personal reproductive autonomy” as a central liberty available to all.
- In California, Proposition 1 passed by large margins – it will protect a person’s reproductive freedom, including the right to abortion and contraceptives.
Meanwhile, voters in two states rejected anti-abortion measures:
- In Kentucky, voters said “no” to Amendment 2, a measure aimed at denying any constitutional protections for abortion. The outcome potentially bodes well for the state’s two remaining abortion clinics, whose lawsuit challenging Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban is currently before the state Supreme Court.
- In Montana, voters appear ready to oppose Referendum 131, a controversial proposal that would have infringed on the right of health care providers to make medical decisions for infants and promoted misinformation about abortion care.
2. Voters Deliver Pay Increases, More Rights to Workers in Three States and D.C.
Workers have been gaining power this year, as evidenced by a surge in labor organizing and public support for unions rising to its highest level in fifty-plus years. That momentum continued on election night, with workers scoring victories in several states.
- In Nevada, Question 2 looks likely to pass—it would increase the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2024 and eliminate a tiered system of minimum wage rates.
- In Nebraska, voters are set to approve Initiative 433, which will increase the state’s minimum wage from its current $9 per hour to $15 in 2026. With the results in Nevada and Nebraska, states have now considered twenty-four ballot measures to raise the minimum wage since 1998—and all twenty-four have passed.
- In Washington, D.C., voters approved Initiative 82 in a landslide—it will increase minimum pay for restaurant servers and other tipped workers from $5.35 per hour to $16.10 per hour by 2027, giving them the same pay floor as non-tipped workers and the ability to keep their tips.
- In Illinois, voters were primed to pass Amendment 1, which would enshrine in the state constitution the right to organize and bargain collectively and prohibit the state legislature from enacting a right-to-work law.
3. New Mexico Becomes First State to Guarantee Funding for Early Child Care Education
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of the many troubles plaguing the child care sector—challenges that have only worsened in recent years. In part thanks to this growing public recognition, Congress got closer this year than it has in a half-century to solving the nation’s child care crisis. Meanwhile, some states are taking action on their own and boosting their investment in a sector and workforce that are the backbone of our economy.
- New Mexico became the first state in the country to guarantee a constitutional right to dedicated funding for early childhood education. Amendment 1, which is poised to pass by more than a two-to-one margin, establishes a dedicated stream of money—roughly $150 million per year—for early childhood programs. As Vox’s Rachel Cohen writes, the victory is the culmination of more than ten years of work by advocates who have been pressuring lawmakers to address New Mexico’s dismal rates of child poverty. The passage of Amendment 1 is seen as a roadmap for other states to invest in child care and early learning as a core component of public education.
4. With Win in South Dakota, Medicaid Expansion Remains Overwhelmingly Popular
While health care wasn’t the defining issue as it has been in past elections, results in one state demonstrate yet again that Americans of all stripes want affordable, accessible health care.
5. Voters in Four States End Legalized Slavery in Their Constitutions
An insidious loophole in the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery in most but not all cases, means that a form of slavery still exists today, legally, inside our nation’s prisons. Our friends at Next100 have written extensively on how this exception dehumanizes those incarcerated, undermines the goals of rehabilitation and public safety, and is strongly opposed by voters.
6. Michigan and Connecticut Expand Voting Access
For many voters, issues surrounding our democracy—from the proliferation of “Big Lie”-promoting candidates to safeguarding the fundamental right to vote—were top of mind. In several states, ballot measures were approved that underscore what has long been known: Americans want more democracy, not less.
- In Michigan, a large majority of voters approved Proposal 2, a measure that will expand voting access, including the creation of a nine-day early voting period and a requirement that the state fund absentee ballot dropboxes.
- In Connecticut, voters appear set to approve Question 1, which will allow for in-person early voting. Connecticut is one of only four states currently that does not offer any early voting.
7. Diverse Candidates Make History Across the Country
At TCF and Next100, we believe that a government that looks like America produces better policy—that representation is more than just checking demographic boxes, but is in fact key to having diverse viewpoints and interests represented in policymaking. To that end, several historic “firsts” were made during this election:
- In Maryland, Wes Moore, the former head of anti-poverty organization Robin Hood, a close TCF partner, won his race and will soon become the first African-American governor of the state—and only the third Black governor elected in the country.
- In Florida, 25-year-old Maxwell Frost was elected, making him the first member of Gen Z to serve in Congress. A former community organizer, Frost made gun violence a focal point of his campaign.
- In Massachusetts, voters elected former state attorney general Maura Healey to governor, making history as the nation’s first openly lesbian governor, as well as the first woman to hold the governorship in the state.