In theory, polling on abortion seems like it should be straightforward. Either Americans believe women should be able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy or they don’t.
In practice, however, it’s a bit more complicated. The specific wording of surveys often generates different results, and polls routinely show significant differences in public attitudes based on specific details. To understand what Americans think, want, and expect, the nuances certainly matter.
But complications aside, there’s one area of unambiguous consistency: Most of the country does not want the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. CNN reported:
Americans remain broadly opposed to overturning the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, following the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would strike down the landmark ruling. Sixty-six percent say Roe v. Wade should not be completely struck down, and 59% would support Congress passing legislation to establish a nationwide right to abortion.
It’s worth emphasizing for context that the survey was conducted shortly after the public learned of the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
The findings were roughly in line with the latest data from the Pew Research Center — which conducted its survey before the leak — pointing to 61 percent of Americans who believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Similarly, a CBS News poll conducted by YouGov found 64 percent of the country wants the justices to maintain the status quo in place and not overturn the Roe precedent.
A smaller majority (58 percent) in the same poll endorsed federal legislation to protect existing abortion rights.
Last week, a well timed Washington Post-ABC News poll also showed Americans, by a nearly two-to-one margin, want to see Roe upheld, not overturned.
There’s a reason Democrats are on the offensive when it comes to reproductive rights and Republicans are on the defensive: Both parties are looking at the same data.
What’s more, there’s reason to believe Americans don’t yet realize what’s poised to happen. The week after the justices heard oral arguments in the Dobbs case, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found that nearly two-thirds of the public “either said they didn’t know how likely the court was to overturn Roe or said the court isn’t likely to overturn the precedent.”
In other words, as we recently discussed, a whole lot of Americans are in for a shock.
Don’t be surprised if the polling gets even worse for opponents of reproductive rights. In early 2017, for example, the Affordable Care Act enjoyed modest popularity. The more Republicans put the ACA in jeopardy, however, the more eager the public became to leave the status quo intact.
It’s easy to imagine a similar dynamic unfolding now: Much of the country has grown accustomed to the Roe precedent, assuming that it’d remain in place indefinitely. Once Republican-appointed justices roll back the clock, it’s at least possible, if not likely, that the jolt will affect public attitudes further.