The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Overturning Roe is unpopular — and viewed as largely political

A woman is among demonstrators gathering June 26 at the Supreme Court to denounce the ruling to end federal abortion rights. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
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Polling conducted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade paints a consistent picture: Most Americans oppose the decision and lack confidence in the Supreme Court itself. What’s more, there is broad concern that the court’s decision to roll back the right to abortion is simply the first in a series of similar rollbacks, potentially targeting same-sex marriage and the availability of contraceptives.

Unsurprisingly, given all of that, one poll found that most Americans see the court’s anti-Roe decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization as rooted fundamentally in politics, not the law.

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Before we go any further, we should dispatch with another set of questions included in the polls released this weekend, one from CBS News, conducted by YouGov, and the other from NPR and PBS NewsHour, conducted by Marist College. In each, respondents were asked whether the ruling in Dobbs might affect their vote in November’s midterm elections. And, as you might expect, many Americans said that it would.

This is a natural question to ask, since it addresses one aspect of the court’s decision that undoubtedly has piqued many people’s curiosity: What might the political response to Dobbs be? Unfortunately, asking this question in the immediate aftermath of the decision, four months before the election, probably doesn’t tell us very much. Many voters will be thinking about the court’s decision when they vote, certainly. But would they have voted anyway? Did the decision change who they planned to vote for? It’s murky, and these polls shed only a very small amount of light, so I’m setting those questions aside.

What we can say with confidence is that most Americans disagree with the decision. In the CBS-YouGov poll (henceforth, the CBS poll), 6 in 10 Americans expressed disapproval, including 6 in 10 independents. Women were more likely to disapprove than men (they did so by a 2-to-1 margin) but even half of men viewed the decision negatively.

In the NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll (henceforth, the NPR poll), those views were broken out to measure how strongly people felt about the decision. Nearly half of women strongly oppose it as do three-quarters of Democrats. More than half of Republicans strongly support it.

The NPR poll also broke out its data by the extent of support respondents had for access to abortion. Nearly three-quarters of those who said they mostly support abortion rights (55 percent of the total) said they strongly oppose the decision. Those who mostly oppose abortion rights (36 percent) mostly strongly supported it.

Perhaps the most telling response from either poll came from NPR’s. More than half of Americans view the decision as being mostly based on politics rather than the law. Most Republicans believe it was mostly based in the law — though even a fifth of Republicans see it as largely political.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has worked to defend his court against allegations that it is infected by politics. The Dobbs decision, it seems safe to say, did not help his case.

Both the CBS and NPR polls asked how much confidence people had in the court. NPR found that most respondents had little to no confidence, with Democrats being much more likely to say they had no confidence than Republicans were to say they had a great deal. (Gallup polling found a plunge in Democratic confidence in the court even before Dobbs.)

That gap was even wider in the CBS poll. Two-thirds of Democrats chose the most severely negative view of the court; only a quarter of Republicans chose the most positive one.

Both polls also asked about where the court might go next. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that the Dobbs decision put at risk similarly grounded cases like those upholding the right to same-sex marriage. In the CBS poll, most Americans thought it very or somewhat likely that decisions protecting same-sex marriage and the availability of contraception would be limited by the court.

NPR’s poll again found a similar result — and again found stronger views among Democrats than Republicans.

The CBS poll put a fine point on the question: Most Americans view it as a step backward. Only 3 in 10 view it as a step forward.

The immediate effect of Dobbs is to make the legality of abortion a state-level decision (with a number of states having already banned the practice thanks to previously passed laws). More than 6 in 10 Americans indicated that they wanted abortion to be legal in all or most cases in their states.

Nearly 138 million Americans live in states in which Republicans both served as governor and controlled the legislature in 2021 — the states most likely to enact bans on access to abortion.

This, of course, is the more immediately important electoral question. Will state-level races, including largely anonymous ones for state legislature seats, be affected by Dobbs? If those elections were held today and turnout matched the pool of respondents to these polls, they would be. But neither of those things is going to happen.

Polls, as always, offer a picture of the moment. What happens next is still unclear. It’s safe to assume, though, that a lack of confidence in the court will endure.

Update: After this published, I saw a tweet claiming that the NPR poll showed a 10-point swing to the Democrats in the generic congressional ballot since April. So I’m adding this footnote mostly to have somewhere to point people curious about that assertion.

The poll includes the long-term trend. Last November, Democrats had a five-point advantage. In April, Republicans had a three-point advantage. In May, the advantage was back to five points for the Democrats. Now it’s at seven points.

The difference between a five- and seven-point advantage is not significant. But, regardless, April doesn’t look like a baseline here, it looks like an outlier! This is pretty obviously not Dobbs-related.

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