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Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Want Roe v. Wade to Stand

Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Want Roe v. Wade to Stand

Story Highlights

  • 28%, including 51% Republicans and 13% Democrats, want Roe v. Wade overturned
  • 49% say Supreme Court nominee's views are a reason to reject
  • 46% think rejection based on nominee's views is unjustified

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the U.S. Senate prepares to hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the public is strongly opposed to any attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that made abortion legal nationwide. Currently, 64% of Americans believe Roe v. Wade should stand, while 28% would like to see it overturned.

RVW Graph 1

The poll was conducted July 2-8, just before President Donald Trump announced Kavanaugh as his nominee to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Many Democratic senators quickly voiced their opposition to the conservative 53-year-old judge and vowed to vote against his confirmation, based largely on his judicial record and his stances on a number of issues, including abortion and the Affordable Care Act.

Democratic U.S. senators and a handful of moderate Senate Republicans, including Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, do not want to fill Kennedy's seat with a justice who opposes abortion rights.

While nominees to the high court often do not openly share their personal views on issues, their past public statements are scrutinized. It is generally expected that Kavanaugh would oppose abortion rights. However, Sen. Collins has said that a remark Kavanaugh made more than 10 years ago about Roe v. Wade -- that it was "settled precedent" -- is encouraging to her.

The American public stands firmly on the side of upholding Roe v. Wade. Gallup has measured the public's views of the decision periodically since 1989 and has found majority-level support for keeping the 1973 ruling in place, ranging from 52% to 68%. The current reading is on the higher end measured.

In 2007, 2008 and 2012, the slimmest majorities called for abortion to remain legal -- but in each of those years, the percentage of Americans saying they had "no opinion" was elevated. The current reading shows the percentage of those with no opinion settling back down to 9%.

Partisans' opinions are sharply polarized, with 81% of Democrats, 70% of independents and 41% of Republicans saying they do not want Roe v. Wade overturned. In contrast, 51% of Republicans, 22% of independents and 13% of Democrats want it reversed.

While Democrats' opinions have been consistent over time, Republicans' views have been less so. For example, a majority of Republicans -- albeit a slim majority, at 52% -- said in 2006 that the case should not be overturned.

Public Divided on Court Nominee's Views as Disqualifier

Americans have decidedly mixed feelings about whether senators should cast their confirmation vote based on a nominee's stance on specific issues like abortion, if that nominee is otherwise qualified. Overall, 49% of Americans think senators are justified in doing so, while 46% of Americans think it is not justifiable.

Partisan Divide Over Justification to Vote Against a Supreme Court Nominee
Suppose a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court is qualified and has no ethical problems. Do you think U.S. senators would be justified -- or unjustified -- in voting against that nominee if they disagree with the nominee's stance on current issues such as abortion, gun control or affirmative action?
Justified Unjustified
% %
U.S. adults 49 46
Republicans 35 59
Independents 44 51
Democrats 66 30
Gallup, July 2-8, 2018

Gallup asked the same hypothetical question -- which specifies that the nominee "is qualified and has no ethical problems" -- in January 2005, just before George W. Bush's second term as president and months before he announced a nominee to replace deceased Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Americans' views are nearly identical today to what they were 13 years ago, including a similar partisan divide.

Although the question is asked theoretically, it is possible that respondents view it through a partisan lens: 66% of Democrats say it is justified to reject a nominee based on issue stances, while 59% of Republicans say it is not justified. In 2005, as now, a Republican president was in office along with a Republican majority in the Senate. Gallup has not yet asked the question with a Democratic president in office or with a Democratic-majority Senate. Thus, it is unclear if the same pattern of partisan differences seen in the 2005 and 2018 readings would occur under those conditions.

Almost six in 10 Americans who say Roe v. Wade should not be overturned (57%) think that a nominee's position on issues is justification for voting against them. Conversely, a similar percentage of those who would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned (59%) do not think a nominee's views on issues are justification to vote against them.

Bottom Line

The upcoming Senate confirmation hearings, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell likely wants completed quickly, will undoubtedly be contentious and sharply political. While the public is divided over whether a nominee's stance on issues like abortion should be grounds for opposition, there is strong agreement among the public that Roe v. Wade should remain in place.

It will take a simple majority to confirm the nominee, and Republicans currently hold 51 Senate seats to the Democrats' 49 seats. With John McCain possibly too ill to return to Washington to vote, the Republicans may need all of their party's senators to vote to confirm Kavanaugh. If Collins or Murkowski vote against his nomination based on his perceived stance on abortion, the Republicans would need support from across the aisle. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, all from states that backed Trump in 2016, will likely be pressured by Trump and other Republican leaders to vote for Kavanaugh. All three voted to support Trump's last Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch. These senators may once again back Trump's nominee based on their own political reasoning rather than on the nominee's personal views.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 2-8, 2018, on the Gallup U.S. Poll with a random sample of 1,291 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Poll works.

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