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Americans dismayed at end of Roe are less certain they will vote, poll finds

A Washington Post-Schar School poll finds 65 percent of Americans view the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling as a major loss of women’s rights, while 35 percent say it is not

Abortion rights activists gather in front of the White House on July 9. The protest at the White House intends to put pressure on President Biden to use executive power to fight for abortion rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)
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Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the end of Roe v. Wade represents a “major loss of rights” for women, a Washington Post-Schar School poll finds, but those who support abortion access are less certain they will vote this fall — a sign of the challenges facing Democrats who hope the issue will motivate their base in the midterms.

Fully 58 percent of the country supports a federal law establishing the right to an abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb, the standard the Supreme Court enshrined for nearly 50 years and overturned last month. And almost a third of Americans say abortion will be one of the “single most important” issues shaping their midterm vote. That’s less than the 39 percent calling rising prices a top issue but higher than the 23 percent citing crime and 20 percent citing immigration.

Abortion’s importance as a voting issue has increased from three years ago, when a Post-ABC poll found 14 percent saying it was one of the top factors in their presidential vote.

When it comes to the Supreme Court’s June ruling, 65 percent view the decision as a major loss of women’s rights, while 35 percent say it is not. Among those certain they will vote, 58 percent say it represents a loss of women’s rights, while 42 percent say it does not. And a slight majority of certain voters support a federal law allowing abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb.

Read full poll results

But the poll also provides evidence of an enthusiasm problem for Democrats: Those who reject the idea that the court’s ruling is a loss for women are 18 percentage points more likely to express certainty they will vote in the midterms — 70 percent compared with 52 percent of those who do see such a loss, according to the Post-Schar School poll conducted July 22 to 24.

Democrats and women, especially younger women, are particularly uncertain they will vote. About 1 in 3 women under 40 are sure they will cast a ballot even as they have strong concerns about rollbacks in abortion access.

“Is the discontent with Democratic Party leadership and policies generally so deep that those most affected by the court decision … still plan to sit out this election?” said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, who worked on the poll. “I struggle to wrap my head around this disconnect.”

Democrats see abortion as a winning issue for them in an otherwise tough election year shaped by rising concerns about the economy and widespread dissatisfaction with President Biden. Candidates in tight races that will determine control of the evenly divided Senate are pitching themselves as barriers to a nationwide abortion ban, while gubernatorial hopefuls are pledging to fight strict bans in battleground states such as Wisconsin and Arizona.

The poll finds that Americans trust Democrats more than Republicans to handle abortion, by a 35 percent to 26 percent margin, but a sizable 39 percent say they trust neither party on the issue.

Republicans say overwhelming concerns about inflation and crime will help them retake the House and Senate as fears of a recession loom. The U.S. economy shrank for a second straight quarter, according to figures released this week, and the Federal Reserve is moving aggressively to curb inflation, which has been climbing at the fastest pace in 40 years.

Where abortion is banned in the U.S.

Some strategists in both parties argue Democrats’ message on abortion could help them sway moderate and suburban women, who have been crucial in past elections. Among women who identify as politically independent, the Post-Schar School poll finds 76 percent see the end of Roe as a major rollback of women’s rights, compared to 58 percent of independent men.

Among all independents, 28 percent say abortion is one of the single-most important issues influencing their vote, and 59 percent support a federal law guaranteeing the right to an abortion before the point of fetal viability, about 22 to 24 weeks into pregnancy. They are more likely to trust Democrats on abortion than Republicans, by a 12-point margin.

But a slight majority of independents say they trust neither party to handle the issue. Rozell said the new polling suggests Democrats’ efforts to mobilize people around abortion have yet to change “the fundamentals” of the Nov. 8 election.

Republicans are the most confident they will vote: 74 percent say they will definitely do so, compared to 62 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents. Americans who say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases are also more likely to say they will definitely vote than those who say abortion should be legal, by 11 points.

Other groups with strong negative reactions to the loss of Roe — including adults under 30 and lower-income Americans who may face more challenges going out-of-state for abortions — are also traditionally less likely to turn out and indicate the same in the poll.

The Post-Schar School findings echo decades of polling showing a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, underscoring the growing divide between policy and public opinion. Many states have restricted access to abortions since Roe was overturned, with some banning the procedure entirely unless a mother’s life is at risk.

A large and bipartisan majority of Americans, about 8 in 10 overall, say states that ban abortion should not be allowed to outlaw people from traveling elsewhere to access the procedure — an idea gaining steam among some antiabortion groups and Republican lawmakers. Those opposed include 64 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of independents and 89 percent of Democrats.

About 2 in 3 Americans say they would feel dissatisfied if their state made abortion illegal in all cases, including 48 percent who say they would be “very dissatisfied.” Opinions are similar among people living in one of the 20 states where abortion has been mostly banned or where a ban is likely to take effect soon, with 64 percent saying they would be dissatisfied.

Majorities disapprove of their state making abortion illegal in all cases across age groups and gender, but the feeling peaks among women under 40: Three-quarters say they would be dissatisfied. That view is shared by 7 in 10 independents and more than 4 in 10 Republicans.

Asked how they would feel if their state made abortion legal in all cases, 52 percent say they would be satisfied, while 32 percent say the would be dissatisfied.

The Washington Post-Schar School poll was conducted July 22-24 among a random national sample of 1,026 U.S. adults via SSRS’s Opinion Panel, an ongoing survey panel recruited through random sampling of U.S. households. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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