What better 40th “birthday” present for Roe v. Wade than new polling data showing American support for abortion rights at an all time high.
Seemingly bucking the conventional wisdom of a few years ago, that “support for abortion rights was decreasing, especially among young people,” a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 7 in 10 Americans believe Roe v. Wade should stand—including 57 percent who feel strongly about this. According to the Wall Street Journal, that is the highest level of support for the decision since polls began tracking it in 1989. (For reference: 60 percent said this in 2002; 66 percent said this in 2005.)
For the first time since 2003 (when the question was first asked about legal vs. illegal), a majority maintained that abortion should be legal. And about half of those who believe that abortion should be illegal don’t want to see Roe overturned.
Recent upticks are attributed to more Democrats backing the decision—particularly Hispanics, African-Americans, and women without college degrees. There’s also been a slight increase in support from Republicans. Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the poll with Democratic pollster Peter Hart, noted that controversial remarks on abortion and rape by at least two Republicans, including Senate candidates, as well as a highly charged debate over contraception, likely also shaped these changing attitudes.
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Still, Americans’ views are not without their tensions and complexities. As the WSJ explains:
Some 31% of respondents in the poll said abortion should always be legal, and 9% believed it should be illegal without any exceptions. Between those two opinions are the 23% who thought it should be legal most of the time, but with some exceptions, and the 35% who felt it should be illegal except in circumstances of rape, incest and to save a woman’s life.
And popular support for constitutional protection for abortion rights has simply moved the battleground from the federal to the state level. As the WSJ reports, while the law stands, state by state restrictions have multiplied:
Opponents of abortion rights won passage of a record 92 measures restricting the procedure in 24 states in 2011, and an additional 43 in 19 states last year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that favors abortion rights. Nine states have recently banned most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, although courts have kept two of the laws from taking effect.
Abortion rights experts, including those at the Reproductive Health Technologies Project who informed Sightline’s messaging recommendations on abortion, have found that acknowledging people’s mixed feelings about the issue can help coax those who are conflicted about certain exceptions or circumstances—a.k.a. those “in the middle” or on the fence—to more solidified support for protecting abortion rights.
What are the best messaging practices for protecting abortion rights, according to their extensive research? Emphasize women’s privacy, instead of focusing on broader rights; talk about women as individuals (real people, like sisters, moms, daughters, etc.) rather than a monolithic, “faceless” population or statistic; and frame having an abortion as a woman’s “decision” rather than a “choice.”
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Jan. 12-15 with 1,000 adults (including 300 cellphone-only respondents), and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.