Gallup began fielding its poll on abortion last month right as news broke about the leak of the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision. It now has data that provide a fresh look at Americans' views on the issue as the fate of Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance. Lydia Saad, Gallup's director of U.S. social research, joins the podcast to discuss the latest on public attitudes on abortion, views on its moral acceptability and how important the issue is to Americans' vote.
Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.
Mohamed Younis 00:07
For Gallup, I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is The Gallup Podcast. This week, we take a closer look at public opinion and the right to abortion as a monumental shift takes place in U.S. constitutional law. Lydia Saad is Gallup director of U.S. research. Lydia, welcome back, my friend.
Lydia Saad 00:24
Thank you, sir.
Mohamed Younis 00:25
We've had a chance to update our data since the last time we spoke for the first time, really, since this infamous leak of the partial majority opinion by Justice Alito. Lots of concern about what it could mean, what it does mean. We just wanted to check in with you and just ask what have we learned in this latest poll?
Lydia Saad 00:44
You know, we have our annual survey where we measure Americans' attitudes on abortion. We do that every May. So it just so happened, we went into the field on May 2nd, and later in the afternoon, this court decision was leaked. So just really a couple hours into our interviewing starting, people would have started hearing about the potential that the Supreme Court's going to overturn Roe v. Wade. And we ask our basic questions, which are, To what extent should abortion be legal? What do Americans think about the morality of abortion? We ask that among an array of different social issues, but Do people think abortion is morally acceptable or not? What their personal position on abortion is -- pro-life or pro-choice -- and then how important abortion is to their vote and also whether they support Roe v. Wade. Whether -- the trend question is whether people want to see that overturned or not.
Lydia Saad 01:33
So what's -- it's kind of easy to discuss this data because everything moved in the same direction. In this first survey conducted since this leak was out compared to a year ago, in our trends, everything moved to the left. Every -- people are more likely to say abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances. They're more likely to say they think abortion is morally acceptable -- the first time we've ever, since we started this in 2001, found a majority, 52%, considering that morally acceptable. More people calling themselves pro-choice. The first time we've been at 55% in over two decades. But support for Roe v. Wade, oddly enough, didn't change quite as much as those other fundamental attitudes and then how it affects their vote -- that's the money question we can get into.
Mohamed Younis 02:18
So, and before we get into all that, so essentially, can we say that as this leak unfolded or started being covered, really, in the mass media, people's attitudes shifted more in favor of abortion rights, or is it not fair to kind of say it that crudely?
Lydia Saad 02:36
No, I think that's very fair. And, you know, when you don't ask a question for a year, a lot of things could happen in the course of that year that might explain a shift. But there has been nothing between last May and now that we would have expected to change public attitudes on abortion, and these are not attitudes that often change. We haven't seen much movement on these at all for about 10 years, and really not much for 20 years. We, you know, in terms of abortion attitudes, we look at kind of like shades of difference, and we pay attention to that. But this is more of a real jump to the left. And so that has to be explained by something big. This is the only big thing that's happened. So I feel very comfortable assigning responsibility to the, this leak for changing attitudes over the past year.
Mohamed Younis 03:21
You mentioned, obviously, it's been a while since this has really been a major focus, and it's been a while since we've seen any movement on these questions or these attitudes. What has changed in American politics today versus the last time this was a big issue? I know one thing that really caught my eye was the rate of Republicans who identify as pro-choice. What are the kind of nuances we should be cautioning against just saying past equals the future?
Lydia Saad 03:49
I think you're asking how is this going to affect elections, or how is this going to impact pressure on leaders? And over time, of course, we've seen more polarization across a number of issues, and we've seen more balkanization of Congress, right, with fewer swing districts and many more just safe Democratic and Republican districts. So there's just systemically less opportunity for issues to affect the makeup of Congress, in terms of voting. You know, Republicans are gonna vote Republican; Democrats are gonna vote Democrat. And what you're alluding to is, now we have 88% of Democrats in our poll identifying as pro-choice on abortion. That's up from 70% a year ago. That's a big jump. Republicans went from -- didn't change; they're 23% pro-choice, 70% pro-life. That's very similar to where they've been the last two years.
So Democrats are becoming more solidified in the pro-choice position in the wake of this decision. And that's really the story behind the story, behind the numbers that we just talked about. So, yes, the percentages saying abortion should be legal and moral jumped; most of that is explained by Democrats becoming more unified around abortion rights in this survey. And how that's going to affect the election is a different issue. More Democrats are saying that, when we ask them how important is the abortion issue to your vote, that they will only vote for a candidate who shares their views on abortion.
Mohamed Younis 05:23
But Republicans and independents don't necessarily see a -- we didn't see an increase in saying who I vote for has to share my view on abortion. It was mostly among the Democrats that we kind of saw that.
Lydia Saad 05:36
Yes. So the percentages -- let's get specific -- who say I'll only vote for candidate who shares my views, among Democrats, that went from 27% to 36% over the past year. Among Republicans, it was 26% last year; it's 24% this year. So it's less -- you know, not less, but it's no more critical to them now than it was. And that's because they've got a court, you know, looking out for their interests. They don't see the imperative to look to the legislative body to defend their position on abortion. But Democrats certainly do. Independents went from 20% to 27% saying they'll only vote for a candidate who shares their views. Now, a lot of that is explained by Democrats who lean independent. But again, that's an important group because those are swing voters who could go either way. So that's probably the most important number is that independents a bit more likely to see this as an important issue.
Mohamed Younis 06:27
And it is so fascinating. I mean, I'm, you know, 41, 42ish. So I tend to think of abortion as, when it comes to voting, as a very Republican topic. I mean, you know, people, obviously on both sides, are extremely rightfully passionate about the issue, but it is interesting to see now Democrats getting a little bit more -- not, we don't want to overstate it -- but a little bit more juiced up on what this means for their vote than independents or Republicans. But I know, Lydia, you're going to caution me and tell me this is like a lifetime until November. So we don't necessarily know what it means for the election.
Lydia Saad 07:05
There's that. But remember, this was just a leak of the decision. We still have the decision to come, which could happen tomorrow and it could happen a month, almost a month from now. And that's getting a lot closer to the election and, you know, so the clock will start all over again at that point on the half-life of the issue. And it could be a lot more intense to begin with, once the final decision is out; presumably, it will be. So I think this is still going to be very salient come November. And, you know, you said something that's probably gonna -- most people will scratch their heads at, when you said, "I think of this as a Republican more than Democratic issue." I think a lot of people would think, what are you talking about? You know, pro-choice Americans are very vocal on abortion. But you're aware of our data that has shown that when you put together people's party, their view on abortion and whether they say they'll only vote for a candidate who shares their views, that has typically been more pro-life Republican. You know, the pro-life side has been more likely to fit that profile than the pro-choice side. So a lot of, you know, people will say they're pro-choice, but it's not as critical as issue to them relative to pro-lifers. But that changed this year.
Lydia Saad 08:13
So this is, and this is our colleague Jeff Jones wrote the, wrote up the data this year on how Americans, you know, are, plan to vote on abortion. And so we have 17% of all voters now, all registered voters, so the potential electorate, 17% say they are pro-choice on abortion and they'll only vote for a candidate who shares their views on that issue. So big advantage -- 17% versus 10% for the pro-choice side over the pro-life in the electorate. And it's the first time that we've tracked this in any election year, midterm or presidential since '96, that the pro-choice has had any kind of advantage, much less such a significant advantage on that.
Mohamed Younis 08:56
And it's also it, you know, should keep in mind that this is all happening in the context of states really passing laws to limit abortion rights. So it does make sense that people, those most motivated would be the people, you know, not wanting to see those rights curtailed versus trying to support an issue, a moral issue that you feel passionate about, that you don't want to see laws enabling people to get an abortion. Let me ask you the gazillion-dollar question, which is Roe v. Wade. How are people feeling about it being overturned versus not? And I ask this again with a grain of salt, because we know that the court isn't necessarily or hopefully not basing their decision on public opinion. But it is fascinating to kind of contrast and compare where the court is and where public opinion is on some of these issues.
Lydia Saad 09:48
Right. So even though I think the kind of, the threat to Roe animated a lot of pro-choice people or abortion rights-leaning people to kind of rally around that side of the issue, our numbers on Roe v. Wade didn't change. We have a solid majority, 58%, saying they don't want to see it overturned, and that's almost identical to what we found a year ago. So, so no change on that fundamental issue, while there was change on everything else. But the reason is that Democrats were already very unlikely to want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. It was 22% said that a year ago, and now it did fall to 15% this year. But at the same time, Republicans became more in favor of overturning; that rose eight points to 58%. So basically partisans became a little more polarized on that issue, and it netted out to no change, but the no change is still a majority against overturning Roe v. Wade.
Mohamed Younis 10:46
I want to ask a surprise question as my last question, which is confidence in the court itself. The court now finds itself in the very thick of headline news, public focus. I should also mention that it's important to remember that there have been a lot of other really monumental decisions that have not been consistent with public opinion, especially when it comes to desegregation, the interstate commerce clause. I mean the court, in many situations, has taken a position, with regards to what the Constitution guarantees, that's very different than the public. How is the court's image doing with the public right now?
Lydia Saad 11:22
Historically, and even in recent years, has had the advantage of being the most well-received branch of government with majority approval -- far distinct from Congress, which has been down in the 20% or lower approval rate range. And under Donald Trump and now President Biden, we're looking at, you know, 40% approval ratings. And so the Supreme Court had kind of been floating above that. But last September, we found that approval of the court fell to 40%, from 49% earlier in the year and from a majority 53% back in 2020. So they're suddenly on very kind of tenuous ground in the public; they've kind of gone to presidential territory approval ratings.
Lydia Saad 12:04
They're not kind of down, they're not down to congressional approval territory, but they have now kind of sunk to presidential-level approval, at 40% with 53% disapproving. And again, that was in September, which came on the heels of Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation, which was controversial, and that seemed to be reflected in our approval rating at the time. But we'll see, we'll see the September, you know, Gallup does very routine measurements at specific times of the year so that we have uniformity and consistency in our trends. So we might have to wait till September to see where the court stands, but that will be a very important number going into the fall elections, to see how the court is viewed as a backdrop to how people are feeling about all other institutions.
Mohamed Younis 12:50
We'll see where it goes next. Lydia Saad, director of U.S. social research at Gallup Thank you so much for being with us.
Lydia Saad 12:56
Mohamed Younis 12:58
That's our show. Thank you for tuning in. To subscribe and stay up to date with our latest conversations, just search for "The Gallup Podcast" wherever you podcast. And for more key findings from Gallup News, go to news.gallup.com, or follow us on Twitter @gallupnews. If you have suggestions for the show, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Gallup Podcast is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is Gallup: reporting on the will of the people since the 1930s.