It’s been more than two weeks since the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that there is no consitutional right to abortion, overturning the precedent set in 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision. This has set off a scramble across the country, as some states move to restrict legal access to abortion while others seek to expand it.
Polls show that Americans largely disapprove of the court’s decision, and the latest FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos survey found that Americans are now more likely to prioritize abortion as a major issue — even if it still isn’t their top concern. Conducted shortly after the court overturned Roe,1 FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos once again interviewed the same 2,000 or so Americans from our previous two survey waves using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel. And from a list of 20 topics, the more than 1,500 adults who responded ranked abortion as the fourth-most important issue facing the country, with 19 percent rating it as a leading concern.2 This marked a notable increase from the 9 percent who ranked abortion as a top issue in our last survey released in early June.
Despite the clear uptick in concern about abortion, however, the issue still substantially trailed three other issues: inflation or increasing costs, crime or gun violence and political extremism or polarization. Inflation is far and away Americans’ leading worry, as more than 60 percent named it as one of their top issues. Meanwhile, concern over crime and gun violence fell to 34 percent after reaching the low 40s in June, while concerns about polarization and extremism grew to 33 percent.
Democrats and independents were especially likely to say abortion ranked as a top issue for the country.3 The share of Democrats who named abortion more than doubled, from 13 percent in our previous wave to 27 percent in our latest wave, while the percentage of independents who mentioned abortion jumped from 8 percent to 17 percent. Republicans, too, were more worried about the issue, but their share only increased from 8 percent to 13 percent.
The political consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade
We asked these respondents why they listed abortion as a key issue, and many offered stark responses that showed the range of emotions that can accompany this issue — sometimes from unexpected sources. “Abortion is a personal topic for women. No one/no law should go against a woman's personal issue concerning this matter,” said a 60-year old Hispanic woman from New Jersey who identified as an independent but leaned Republican, while a 26-year old white woman in Colorado who identified as a Republican told us that “a nation that kills its babies cannot possibly survive as a strong, compassionate, cohesive nation.” A 20-year old Black man from California who identified as a Democrat wrote, “Women have less rights now than their mothers and grandmothers did.”
Interestingly, most Americans supported the underlying argument for Roe — that there is a right to privacy established in the Constitution; only not everyone agreed that it applied to abortion. Overall, 65 percent of Americans said the Constitution contains a right to privacy; only 10 percent said “no,” with almost no differences across party lines. However, a plurality (39 percent) said there was no legal right to abortion in the Constitution, while 30 percent said there was, a split largely driven by Republicans (70 percent of whom said there was no legal right to abortion).
What overturning Roe means for abortion access across the US | FiveThirtyEight
But the question now is where the fight over abortion will go next. For instance, the Dobbs decision may have opened the door to future judicial rulings that threaten long-protected access to different forms of contraception. And some Republican-controlled state legislatures have even started trying to restrict access to different forms of birth control with legislation. Our poll found, however, that such bills might be a bridge too far for most Americans, as there is overwhelming support for legal access to common forms of contraception across party lines. Strikingly, around 90 percent of Americans said condoms and birth control pills should be legal in “all” or “most” cases, and 81 percent said the same of IUDs (intrauterine devices). And, there is very little difference in support for the legality of each of these contraceptives across party lines.4
Americans are more clearly divided over emergency contraception like Plan B pills, but 70 percent overall still said these methods should be legal, including 62 percent of Republicans, who were less supportive than Democrats or independents. But abortion itself brought out the sharpest partisan splits. At least 80 percent of Democrats said abortion in surgical or pill form should be legal, compared to about a third of Republicans. “I identify more with Republicans because the Democrats seem to be ‘everybody gets a free ride.’ But on this issue, I’m more with the Democratic Party,” said Debra W., an older white woman from Michigan. “Too many of [the Supreme Court justices] are too conservative. And they just are seeming to go back on a lot of rights.”
In fact, while Republicans were more likely to oppose abortion than Democrats or independents, they, like most Americans, rejected the idea of making abortion fully illegal, with no exceptions. This is notable because a number of almost entirely Republican-run states could end up with abortion bans that contain no allowances in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger. But in our poll, 81 percent of respondents opposed such a comprehensive ban, including 74 percent of Republicans.5 “I feel like a lot of the conservative views are a bit more extreme than they were before,” said Soledad Ramos, a 33-year old Hispanic woman from Texas who identified as independent but leaned Democratic. “Regardless how it happened, [women] may end up in a situation where they may decide that abortion is the better option for them. And I feel like they should have the say to decide that.”
Some GOP-controlled states are also looking to punish women who seek abortions across state lines, yet 78 percent of respondents opposed making it illegal to cross state lines to obtain an abortion, including 73 percent of Republicans. And 76 percent overall opposed making it illegal to assist a woman seeking an abortion with money or transportation, including 61 percent of Republicans. More broadly, there just wasn’t much support for punishing those who violate laws against abortion, as only 18 percent of respondents supported criminally charging violators and having them face either jail time or a fine. By comparison, 13 percent supported them being charged with a misdemeanor and a fine, while 36 percent opposed any punishment at all (31 percent said they didn’t know).
Republicans are also pushing forward controversial fetal personhood legislation — laws that could make in vitro fertilization illegal. In our survey, we asked half our respondents whether fetuses should be given the same rights as children and adults, and the other half whether fertilized eggs should have those rights. Majorities opposed both proposals, but fetal personhood did receive a bit more support, especially among Republicans. Overall, 59 percent opposed making fetuses legal persons, while 36 percent supported the idea, including 66 percent of Republicans. By comparison, 62 percent opposed personhood for fertilized eggs, including 50 percent of Republicans.
Beyond what states are doing to restrict or expand abortion access, there’s also the question of the issue’s impact on the 2022 midterm election. It’s early yet, but we’ve noticed a small trend in the Democrats’ direction in our generic ballot question among likely voters, not unlike that seen in some other recent polling. Back in early May, Republicans led by 5 points among likely voters (40 percent to 35 percent), but the GOP edge shrank to 2 points in early June (40 percent to 38 percent), and in our latest wave Democrats actually led by 1 point (39 percent to 38 percent). Because the FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll uses a panel, we’re talking about movement among largely the same group of voters, so this could be meaningful.
The Supreme Court dealt a big blow to the separation of church and state
However, we shouldn’t overstate the importance of this swing, as it’s only July and we know the generic ballot polling average tends to trend toward the party not in the White House as we get closer to the election. Moreover, abortion (or any other issue, for that matter) doesn’t seem to have made people who weren’t likely to vote say they are now likely to vote. A lot of coverage has cited polls that ask respondents whether the Supreme Court’s decision has made them more likely to vote, but respondents who were already likely to vote could still answer “more likely” in such surveys, so those figures don’t tell us that much about potential increases in voter engagement. Meanwhile, in our survey, the share who said they were likely to vote has hardly changed across the three waves — and there’s been little change by party, too.
Finally, while about 1 in 5 respondents cited abortion as a top issue, 3 in 5 named inflation or rising prices. Moreover, higher prices, particularly higher gas prices, often correspond with abysmal presidential approval ratings, which, of course, usually align with worse midterm performances by the president’s party. We didn’t ask about job approval, but President Biden’s favorability numbers remained poor: Thirty-three percent registered a favorable opinion of him, compared with 59 percent who held an unfavorable view.6 Those numbers were somewhat better among likely voters (40 percent favorable, 59 percent unfavorable), but still quite negative for Biden.
In other words, abortion has become a more pressing topic in the midterms, but the fundamental worry about rising prices and Biden’s low standing could still be a major boon to Republican fortunes in the fall.
Additional reporting and research by Amelia Thomson-Deveaux. Art direction by Emily Scherer. Copy editing by Santul Nerkar. Graphics by Paroma Soni. Story editing by Sarah Frostenson.