Kentucky and Kansas are good examples of this: In Kentucky, opposition to the amendment was certainly strongest in Lexington and Louisville, but those weren’t the only areas to vote no, and support was not overwhelming through much of the rest of the state. (As the end result suggests.) Michigan shows rural support for abortion even more strongly, with abortion rights winning several counties that went for Donald Trump in 2016 and even 2020. Gogebic County, with 15 people per square mile, supported abortion rights, for instance.
But abortion wasn’t the only issue championed by Democrats that did well in a red or purple state ballot vote.
A ballot measure raising the minimum wage in Nebraska passed with 58% of the vote. The state’s minimum wage will go up from $9 an hour (already above the federal level of $7.25) to $10.50 in 2023, then keep going up until it reaches $15 in 2026. After that, it would be indexed to inflation. This isn’t a first for Nebraska: Voters there raised the minimum wage in 2014, a year when South Dakota, Arkansas, and Alaska also had successful minimum wage ballot votes. In fact, minimum wage increases are a policy overwhelmingly rejected by Republican lawmakers but regularly passed by red-state voters.
Nebraska has one battleground House district where Republican Rep. Don Bacon was reelected. Interestingly, Bacon was one of six House Republicans who voted yes on the Biden infrastructure bill and was still running come Election Day. Every single one of those six won reelection. (Five of the 13 House Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill retired or resigned, one lost a primary against another Republican incumbent following redistricting, and one died.) So it turns out that supporting infrastructure investment might not have been a disastrous position for a House Republican to take.
Going in a significantly different direction, marijuana legalization only went 1 for 4 in red states where it got a vote on Tuesday (it also succeeded in Maryland), but … marijuana was legalized in a Republican state. Specifically, Missouri. Who had that on their bingo card a decade ago? And it came within 10 points in North Dakota and South Dakota.
Speaking of South Dakota, voters there said yes to expanding Medicaid, which their Republican legislators had refused to do.
Voter preferences are complicated, and complicated in ways that polling often can’t tell us much about. You certainly can’t look at these results and say, “Well, if Kentucky Democrats had just run on abortion rights” or “Nebraska Democrats should have run on the minimum wage,” however much that’s what you want to believe. But results like these are dual reminders to Democratic politicians to not hold back on policy, and to the media to not imagine that because voters support Republican politicians they are necessarily right-wing in a consistent or monolithic way.