The Affordable Care Act wasn’t popular with a majority of Americans. Then along came President Trump and the Republican-led Congress, which tried to yank it up by the roots. Support for the ACA spiked. Trump accomplished what President Barack Obama and Democrats could not, namely highlighting the benefits — if not the necessity — of an imperfect bill that extended coverage to tens of millions of people. The same thing is now happening with regard to abortion rights.
The Post notes, “Support for legal abortion stands at its highest level in more than two decades according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, even as numerous states adopt restrictions that challenge the breadth of rights established by the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision." Indeed, the increase in support might be because numerous states are attempting to ban the procedure, putting at risk the health of women. Now, 60 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, a five-point increase since a 2013 poll. That equals the previous record level of support registered in 1995. “The latest survey finds 36 percent say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, also tying a record low,” The Post adds.
As with most issues in the United States, there are huge divisions based on party (77 percent of Democrats support legal abortion in all or most cases, while only 41 percent of Republicans do) and religion (“White evangelical protestants remain the most united against legal abortion, with 62 percent saying it should be illegal in all or most cases, virtually unchanged from 66 percent in 2013. White Catholics are largely split, with 51 percent saying abortion should be legal, and 46 percent saying it should be illegal, also little changed from 2013. Fully 85 percent of those with no religion say abortion should be legal.”) While there is not a significant difference in views between men and women, 73 percent of women consider it either very important or one of the most important issues; only 46 percent of men do. This is personal for women, whatever side they are on.
Moreover, when it comes to white, college-educated voters, the gender difference is enormous. Seventy-two percent of white, college-educated women support abortion rights in all or most cases, while only 57 percent of male, college-educated whites do. And younger Americans overwhelmingly support legal abortion (72 percent) compared with Americans 65 or older (56 percent).
There are several takeaways here.
First, when the right wing stakes out an extreme position, seeking to revert to a bygone political era (e.g. no legal abortion; no guaranteed health care for working, able-bodied adults; climate change denial), the public recoils. Those who already supported legal abortion/health care/anti-climate-change efforts see how much they stand to lose and intensify their position; others who simply took the status quo (Roe v. Wade, ACA, anti-climate-change efforts) for granted suddenly realize what could be lost and register alarm or support for the endangered policies.
Ilyse Hogue, head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, isn’t surprised by the poll results. “Abortion at its core is a fundamental question of personal freedom vs. government control for women who make up more than half the population,” she tells me. “Our country grapples with the consequences of an Administration that wears its disdain for women and our well being on its sleeve, from Jeffrey Epstein to abortion bans to the domestic gag rule.” She adds, “It’s no surprise when the question is called that more and more support women having control over our own lives without politicians getting in the way.”
Second, while Republicans remain far and away the party most opposed to abortion rights, the abortion-ban forces have overshot, even within the GOP. Among Republicans, 41 percent think abortion should be legal in all or most situations, while only 52 percent think it should be illegal in all or most circumstances. Only 22 percent of Republicans think it should be illegal in all cases. Republican politicians, responsive to the loudest and most passionate anti-abortion voices, are far more extreme than voting Republicans.
Third, radical change turns off the overwhelming number of Americans. Some 73 percent favor keeping abortion rights the way they are or making it easier to get an abortion, while only 24 percent think it should be harder. Republicans seem to have snatched the mantle of “most extreme” party by championing draconian abortion bans; that, it turns out, was about the least popular thing they could have done.
Finally, Democrats (the pro-abortion rights party) have much more intense feelings about the issue when it comes to 2020. Among Democrats, 71 percent consider abortion an important issue, and 52 percent consider it a very important issue; among Republicans, those numbers are 57 and 41 percent, respectively.
Trump’s entire reactionary appeal (MAGA) seeks to roll back the clock to an era in which white males dominated the economy and politics, white Christian Protestants ruled the roost, women were not competing for men’s jobs, and abortion was illegal in many places. The message from nonwhites, women, other religious groups (or unaffiliated groups) and pro-abortion-rights voices is clear: No way. The more intensely Trump demands retrenchment and regression on issues that these anti-Trump voices care about, the more intense, motivated and, frankly, Democratic they become. With abortion, the message extends even to many Republicans: There will be no rollback.