Key Takeaways from the 2023 Election

Highly engaged electorates make their voices heard

Justin Perkins November 9, 2023

With a high-profile battle that flipped control of the Virginia State Legislature to Democrats, a resounding vote to enshrine the right to abortion in the Ohio state constitution and key gubernatorial races in Mississippi and Kentucky, a lot was at stake in the 2023 off-year election where rural voters played a key role.

The election also showed the political potency of abortion and the status of reproductive rights, which has arguably ignited support for Democrats since 1922 when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade ending, the constitutional right to an abortion. While many see the results from 2023 as foreshadowing the 2024 general election, many questions remain unanswered given the nature of a low-turnout special election with Tuesday’s elections almost entirely at the local and state levels.

Here is a round-up of some election results we think are relevant to rural voters:

  • Ohio voters passed Issue 1, adding reproductive rights to the state constitution. Months of on-the-ground grassroots organizing in rural areas helped shape the election in a state that former President Donald Trump won by an eight-point margin—
    • In Athens County, organizers from claimed to have knocked on over 30,000 doors in Athens County, while organizers with Indivisible Appalachian Ohio knocked on 22,000 doors. Athens County was the third highest ranking county in Ohio to vote favor of Issue 1. —Athens County Independent.
    • “We aren’t losing rural voters because of ‘social issues,’ ” said Matt Hildreth, executive director of “Democrats are losing rural voters because we outsource our campaigns to consultants instead of empowering constituents and voters.”
  • Virginia Democrats seized a majority in the House of Delegates and held control in State Senate, upending Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s aspirations in the state and possibly beyond as Youngkin eyes a future presidential bid.
    • The GOP effort to defuse abortion as a motivating issue for Democratic-leaning voters wasn’t enough to stop the tide in the suburban battlegrounds. Voters effectively denied Youngkin from passing his proposal to ban most abortions after 15 weeks.—Virginia Mercury.
  • Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, fended off a potential upset from his Democratic challenger Brandon Presley (also known as Elvis Presley’s second cousin). While Presley had pushed for the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to save Mississippi’s collapsing rural hospitals, it was not enough to overcome Reeves’s popularity among Republicans.—The New York Times.
    • Reeves underperformed relative to his seven fellow statewide Republican incumbents, who won with at least 59% of the vote against their Democratic challengers. However, demonstrated Republican strength where abortion was not an issue, as both Reeves and Presley ran as strong opponents of abortion rights.
    • “In conservative pockets of the state on Election Day, Reeves matched or came close to matching the margins he earned four years ago against Democratic challenger Jim Hood. In Jones County, for instance, Reeves earned 66% of the vote against Presley. Four years ago, he earned 65% there.”—Mississippi Today.
  • Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, defeated Daniel Cameron, the state’s attorney general who had secured a Trump endorsement. Beshear’s re-election showed the strong support he has gained among grassroots groups in a state that President Joe Biden lost by 26 percentage points in 2020.
  • Moms for Liberty endorsed dozens of candidates for school board in states across the United States from Pennsylvania, Minnesota, North Carolina to Iowa.
    • While some of these candidates achieved significant wins—for instance, in Rockingham County, Virginia—most candidates backed by Moms for Liberty faced major defeats. Particularly in Iowa, where voters dealt a stunning rebuke to the group. Moms for Liberty chapters endorsed 13 candidates school boards. Only one was elected.—The New Republic.
  • Texas voters said “yes” to broadband infrastructure across Texas. Proposition 8 will set aside $1.5 billion to expand internet availability in Texas, where some 7 million people currently lack access. This will also provide matching funds with federal money from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD).
  • Tim Marema for the Daily Yonder compared Ohioan voting patterns between 2020 and 2023, charting how rural voters helped shift the vote in favor of the constitutional amendment.
    • “In 2020, Ohio voters in rural counties supported Trump 72% to 28%, a margin of over 40 points. In Tuesday’s referendum, rural voters opposed the abortion-rights amendment. But they did so by a margin of 18 points, less than half the margin that Trump racked up in the 2020 presidential election.”—Daily Yonder.
  • “Rural communities struggling to fill positions in local governments.” That was the headline ran by Northwest Public Broadcasting, which documented the struggle of rural counties in Washington state to find or replace positions for public officers, an often thankless job.
    • “More than 80 percent of elections in Whitman County from 2008 to 2019 were uncontested, according to Whitman County Watch, a nonprofit news site in Pullman.”—Northwest Public Broadcasting.
Justin Perkins

Justin Perkins is Barn Raiser Deputy Editor & Publisher and Board Clerk of Barn Raising Media Inc. He is currently finishing his Master of Divinity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The son of a hog farmer, he grew up in Papillion, Neb., and got his start as a writer with his hometown newspaper the Papillion Times, The Daily Nebraskan, Rural America In These Times and In These Times. He has previous editorial experience at Prairie Schooner and Image.

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