WASHINGTON – A new poll finds a growing percentage of Americans calling out abortion or women’s rights as priorities for the government in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, especially among Democrats and those who support abortion access.
With midterm elections looming, President Joe Biden and Democrats will seek to capitalize on that shift.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in remarks immediately after the decision that “reproductive freedom is on the ballot in November.” But with pervasive pessimism and a myriad of crises facing the nation, it’s not clear whether the ruling will break through to motivate those voters — or just disappoint them.
“It does feel like a major setback,” said 26-year-old Lauren Nelson of San Diego, who has been worrying about the environment her young niece will grow up in. She doesn’t think the midterms will change the course that states are on. “You can’t help but feel kind of helpless, as though there’s not much that can be done.”
Twenty-two percent of U.S. adults name abortion or women’s rights in an open-ended question as one of up to five problems they want the government to work on, according to the poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That’s more than doubled since December, when an AP-NORC poll found a notable uptick in mentions of abortion from years before, likely in anticipation of the Dobbs ruling on abortion.
The new poll, which included interviews conducted before and after the Supreme Court’s ruling, finds prioritization of the issues grew sharply following the decision.
The Dobbs ruling kicks decision-making on abortion back to states, and in the last week, Republican governors and legislatures have moved to introduce or advance legislation that bans or curtails abortions.
Polling conducted before the decision showed it was unpopular with a majority of Americans, who wanted to see the court leave Roe as is. A majority of Americans support abortion access in general, though many say there should be restrictions. About a third say abortion should be legal in all cases, roughly another third legal in most cases, about a quarter illegal in most cases. About 1 in 10 say it should be illegal in all cases.
Mentions of abortion specifically are not limited to Americans who support abortion rights; instead, the poll shows abortion is named as a priority by roughly a quarter of adults with hardline opinions on both sides of the issue — those who think abortion should be legal in all cases and those who think abortion should be illegal in all cases.
Earnestine Smith, a 68-year-old resident of Waukegan, Illinois, said the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe represents progress. The issue is one of her highest priorities right now.
“We want abortion abolished and done away with,” she said. “We got to stand up and say no.”
Still, it’s significant that those with the most liberal views on abortion and those with the most conservative views are about equally likely to prioritize the issue; historically, research has shown opponents of abortion have been more likely to consider the issue important to them than those supporting abortion access.
And the new poll finds mentions of women’s rights are almost exclusively by those who think abortion should be legal.
According to the poll, the percentage of women prioritizing abortion or women's rights was already higher in interviews conducted before the ruling than six months ago, 21% vs. 9% in December; it swelled to 37% in the days after. Mentions grew sharply among men, too, but the growth was concentrated in the wake of the ruling, from 6% in interviews conducted before to 21% after.
Lyle Gist said he wouldn’t have thought of abortion as a top priority a few years ago. The court decision to overturn Roe, though unsurprising, makes it a major issue.
“I think the ramifications of this are substantial,” said 36-year-old Gist of Los Angeles. Gist thinks that there will be ripple effects, including a “mass exodus” of people moving out of states with abortion bans.
In a small town in Louisiana in 1968, when abortion was illegal, Anne Jones carried a pregnancy to term and gave her daughter up for adoption. Jones, now 74 in Plano, Texas, worries about what the Republican Party might go after next -- like birth control -- and thinks it’s hypocritical that lawmakers like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott want to “hold the woman accountable for the child that she may not be able to afford to keep” even as they limit health and social services for women and children.
“Politics in Texas has taken a wrong turn,” she said. She wants to see abortion access made national law but remains skeptical that Biden and Democrats can do so.
The poll shows these issues have been increasingly important to Democrats, growing from just 3% in 2020 to 13% in 2021 and now 33%. In interviews before the ruling, 18% of Democrats mentioned abortion or women’s rights; that was 42% after.
Among Republicans, 11% identify abortion or women's rights as a priority in the new poll, a modest increase from 5% who said that in December.
Steven Lefemine, who protests outside the Planned Parenthood in Columbia, South Carolina, called Roe’s reversal a “major benchmark” but said lawmakers needed to do much more, including pursuing a constitutional amendment to protect unborn children.
“I’d like to see legislation that lives up to God’s word,” he said.
Biden and Democrats have vowed to fight for abortion access, but they’ve struggled with how to act given crippling opposition from Republicans in a sharply divided Senate. Biden said to reporters on Thursday that he would support an exception to the filibuster rule to codify Roe into law.
Roderick Hinton, who voted for Biden, wants to see the president move on court reform, saying the court’s decisions “are not matching today’s time.” He was angry after the court overturned Roe -- that the older generation is “putting the screws” to younger Americans, including his two daughters.
Biden commissioned a review of the Supreme Court after promising to do so on the campaign trail, a response to rhetoric within the Democratic Party about expanding the court following former President Donald Trump’s three conservative appointments. The report released last year exercised caution about proposals to expand the court or set term limits.
“Their lifetime position is really crazy,” Hinton said. “As neutral as the courts were, it’s now becoming political. Their personal beliefs are being put in place.”
Associated Press/Report for America reporter Claire Savage in Chicago and AP writer Matt Sedensky in New York contributed to this report.
The poll of 1,053 adults was conducted June 23-27 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.