As with the Affordable Care Act, which gained majority support only when President Trump threatened to take it away, Trump’s nomination of a second Supreme Court justice off the list of approved right-wing judges has driven support for abortion rights to new heights. The latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll finds that “71 percent of American voters believe that the decision, which established a woman’s legal right to an abortion, should not be overturned. Just 23 percent say the ruling should be reversed.” This is unprecedented. “That’s the highest level of support for the decision — and the lowest share of voters who want Roe v. Wade overturned — in the poll’s history dating back to 2005. In 1989, according to Gallup’s survey, 58 percent said they believed it should stay in place while 31 percent disagreed.”
How does Trump manage to drum up support for progressive policies? We may not appreciate what we have (be it a right, a service or a product), but faced with losing it entirely, we recoil. The fear of loss can trigger newfound appreciation for the status quo.
In the case of abortion, Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Generations of women (and men) have grown up never imagining that abortion could be criminalized. Now they are presented with the possibility access to abortion services could be severely curtailed if not eliminated in parts of the country. Voters are therefore motivated to express support for pro-abortion rights candidates:
Voters . . . say that they are more likely to vote for a political candidate who supports abortion rights rather than for one who opposes them. Forty-four percent of voters said they would be more likely to vote for a pro-abortion-rights candidate, while 26 percent said they would be more likely to support a candidate who backs restrictions on abortions. About three-in-ten — 29 percent — said that a candidate’s views on abortion would make no difference to their vote choice.
Moreover, support for the nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, widely perceived to be hostile to Roe, is shockingly poor:
Thirty-two percent of voters back his nomination, while 26 percent say he should not be confirmed (a net +6 in support.) That’s compared with 32 percent supporting and 20 percent opposing the previous Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch (a net +12 in support.) Net support for the confirmations of John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor were similarly in double digits, although Elena Kagan enjoyed about the same level of backing in June 2010 as Kavanaugh does now — 29 percent supporting versus 23 percent opposing.
Opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation is particularly pronounced among Democrats (10 percent support/ 52 percent oppose), African Americans (9 percent support/ 38 percent oppose) and women with a college degree (21 percent support / 38 percent oppose.)
As a practical matter, vocal support for Roe and public trepidation about Kavanaugh may make it easier for red-state Democrats to oppose the nomination. It will intensify pressure on pro-choice Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. In November and beyond, Kavanaugh’s nomination certainly could help Democrats rally members of their base, especially married women who of late have fled the GOP, expressed deep concerns about Trump’s presidency and turned out in strong numbers in special elections, primaries and state elections in 2017 and 2018.
It’s not just Democrats who understand that the prospect of reversing Roe is a political loser. Conservatives who have long promised to reverse Roe and allow states to ban virtually all abortions now insist that Roe wouldn’t really be tossed aside, maybe just “trimmed around the edges.” That disingenuous gambit has not fooled many voters; they understand fully the difference between a 5-4 majority for abortion protection and a 5-4 majority composed of justices selected precisely because they believe Roe lacks constitutional merit.