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A new poll shows how abortion could be a potent issue for Dems in 2024

A surge in support for abortion rights could spell trouble for the GOP.

A major new poll shows a significant long-term surge in support for abortion rights across America, with strong majorities locking into place in key battleground states. As the public anxiously awaits a ruling from a federal judge who could ban the abortion pill mifepristone nationwide, it’s a reminder that the fight to win back abortion rights could be a powerful tool to mobilize a blue wave in the 2024 presidential election.

According to the Public Religion Research Institute poll, which surveyed over 20,000 people in all 50 states last year, 64% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. That’s nearly 10 percentage points higher than it was in 2010. And the percentage of people who said abortion should be illegal in all cases more than halved, from 15% in 2010 to 7% in 2020. The polling data shows that a bigger shift in favor of abortion rights started emerging in 2020, a couple of years before Roe v. Wade was overturned last year. 

My NBC News colleagues who write the “First Read” newsletter dug up some even more politically potent data points from the poll:

Majorities of residents in 43 states and D.C. think abortion should be legal.

That includes the presidential battlegrounds of Arizona (where 62% say it should be legal in all or most cases), Georgia (57%), Michigan (66%), Nevada (80%), Pennsylvania (61%) and Wisconsin (64%).

It also includes the key 2024 Senate states of Montana (64%), Ohio (66%) and West Virginia (57%).

In other words, in key contests for control of the Senate and the White House, there is widespread support for abortion rights. Republicans looking over these stats should be nervous about their 2024 prospects in these conditions. After all, look what happened in 2022. 

As The New York Times’ chief political analyst, Nate Cohn, pointed out in November, one of the key reasons Republicans underperformed expectations so badly in the midterm elections was tied to the threats they posed to abortion rights. In Michigan, abortions rights were put before voters in a state referendum, and Democrats dominated the state’s electoral contests. In Kansas, where an abortion referendum had been on the ballot in August, the Democrats performed notably well. Cohn also noted that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ distinctly strong performance in Florida might be partially attributable to his declining to pursue the most restrictive anti-abortion policy approach (he went with a 15-week abortion ban). And some analysts believe part of Trump acolyte Doug Mastriano’s loss in Pennsylvania’s governor’s race might’ve been tied to his extremist position on abortion, especially given that Republicans held the state legislature.

In an interview with The New Yorker, Cohn said that when either threats to democracy (in the form of hard-core MAGA candidates) or abortion rights were at stake in 2022, “something that defied the normal rules of national politics took place.”

In light of 2022, the PRRI polling data looks promising for Democrats. Now, midterm election trends aren’t going to translate directly to presidential election results; it's likely that state-level issues are more prominent during midterm years, while presidential years involve bigger-picture assessments of the White House contenders. But Dems will almost certainly emphasize to voters that a blue wave in which they secure a filibuster-proof majority and pass federal laws protecting abortion is the only way to build a durable architecture for protecting abortion rights. The urgency may be even more acute after the imminent ruling on abortion pills. Abortion rights are in a state of crisis in America — but that crisis could help spur more sweeping change.