Election night takeaways

Political scientist Marc Meredith and PORES director Stephanie Perry, who both worked on NBC’s Decision Desk on Election Night with more than a dozen Penn undergrads, share their thoughts on what Tuesday’s results could mean for 2024.

Signs for and against Ohio's Issue 1 are in a lawn covered in fall leaves in front of a church
Issue 1 signs sit outside Knox Presbyterian Church on Election Day, Nov. 7, 2023, in Cincinnati. Issue 1 specifically declares an individual’s right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including abortion. (Image: AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)

Democrats had a good Election Night on Tuesday, with a victory on abortion rights in Ohio, the election of a pro-choice Supreme Court justice in Pennsylvania, and a sweep in the Virginia legislature among the wins to celebrate.

“It was clearly a better night for the Democrats than the Republicans,” says Marc Meredith, a political scientist in the School of Arts & Sciences who also worked on NBC’s Decision Desk on Election Night as part of the Penn Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies (PORES). The five races he was most focused on were the Ohio abortion vote, the Kentucky and Mississippi governors’ races, Pennsylvania’s statewide judge elections, and the legislative races in Virginia. “Going into last night, I thought the party that won at least three of the five of these races would have the better night. Four of the five went to the Democrats, with the exception being Mississippi governor.”

Of those races, the biggest story for 2024 is the Democratic wins in the Pennsylvania statewide judge elections, he says.

“Not because the judges themselves are likely to be that consequential but because it gives us a sense where arguably the most consequential swing state stands one year before the election,” Meredith says. “My guess is that nearly all of the people voting for the Democratic judges last night will be supporting the Democratic presidential nominee in 2024, and nearly all of the people voting for Republican judges last night will be supporting the Republican presidential nominee.”

He notes it is important to keep in mind that turnout in the 2024 presidential election will be more than double what it was on Tuesday night in Pennsylvania. “While the Democrats may start with a small edge, the presidential election will be determined by the vote choices of the millions of Pennsylvanians who didn’t vote last night,” he says.

Stephanie Perry is the executive director of the Fox Leadership Program and PORES. She’s also the manager for exit polls at NBC News, a team that had several Penn students working through Election Night. More than a dozen Penn undergraduates were working real-time in NBC’s Decision Desk on Tuesday night.

Perry and her team conducted an exit poll in Ohio, where voters enshrined abortion access in the state constitution and approved legalizing recreational marijuana.

“The exit poll findings in Ohio point to voter enthusiasm for abortion rights. Results showed far-reaching support across subgroups, particularly among groups that are typically Democratic strongholds,” Perry says. “An exit poll was only conducted in one state last night, but results indicate that despite Biden’s poor job approval ratings and lack of enthusiasm for his reelection campaign, abortion rights are fueling Democratic wins.”

Meredith says he expects to hear a lot of takes over the coming days about what these election results mean for Biden, given all the coverage the New York Times polls received last weekend showing him currently behind the major Republican presidential candidates in most of the key swing states.

“Those who oppose Biden are going to say that the Democrats’ strong performance shows that Biden should step aside and not risk dragging down the ticket. In contrast, those who support Biden are going to say that the Democratic success shows that these polls are not accurate,” he says. “There is no obvious way to say which of these two explanations is right.”

Here, Perry shares her team’s top five Ohio exit-poll analyses to help explain what happened and what issues might rise to the top in 2024.

Negative feelings about the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade 

The team found that about six in 10 Ohio voters had negative feelings about the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Among those who said they were angry about the decision, 93% voted “yes” on adding the right to abortion to the Constitution of the State of Ohio.

Majority said abortion should be legal

Six in 10 Ohio voters told pollsters that abortion should be legal, including 28% who said it should be legal in all cases and 33% who said they should be legal in most cases. Among those who said abortion should always be legal, 96% voted “yes” on Issue 1 and 4% voted no. Among those who said it should be legal in most cases, 83% voted “yes” and 17% voted no.

Most say Biden, Trump shouldn’t be running in 2024

About three quarters of Ohio voters said they do not think President Biden should be running again in 2024, and a quarter said he should. Fifty-nine percent of Ohio voters disapprove of the way Biden is handling his job as president. About two-thirds of Ohio voters said former President Donald Trump should not be running for president in 2024, and 35% think he should.

Economic factors

Forty-two percent of Ohio voters said their family financial situation is worse today than it was three years ago. Among that group, 68% voted “no” on the Ohio ballot measure for abortion and 32% voted yes. Half of Ohio voters trust the Republican Party to handle the economy, and 40% trust the Democratic Party more.

Key demographic groups for ‘yes’ in Ohio ballot measures

Voters who identify as moderate, Independents, young voters, and Black voters were important voting blocs with majorities voting yes in the Ohio ballot measures on abortion and marijuana.