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Poll: Two-thirds say don't overturn Roe; the court leak is firing up Democratic voters

Pro-abortion rights demonstrators march in Washington, D.C., on May 14. While most U.S. adults favor some restrictions on abortion, according to our new poll, most also say they do not support overturning <em>Roe v. Wade</em>.
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Pro-abortion rights demonstrators march in Washington, D.C., on May 14. While most U.S. adults favor some restrictions on abortion, according to our new poll, most also say they do not support overturning Roe v. Wade.

About two-thirds of Americans say they do not support overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the United States, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

Seven-in-10 U.S. adults, however, say they are in favor of some degree of restrictions on abortion rights. That includes 52% of Democrats.

The issue of abortion rights was once again thrown into the hot spotlight of American politics after the unprecedented leak of a draft opinion from the Supreme Court earlier this month that showed the majority-conservative court ready to overturn Roe.

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The draft decision — which could differ from how the court ultimately rules — is having an impact with voters, according to the survey. It has fired up Democrats, who had been less enthusiastic about the midterm elections than Republicans, who are favored to take back control of the House and possibly the Senate.

The poll shows that two-thirds of Democrats say the contents of the leak make them more likely to vote in November, as compared to just 40% of Republicans who said so.

"It definitely has them [Democrats] focused as no other issue in the recent months has," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll. "And to have a gap of that magnitude over the Republicans is something that, at this point, should not go unnoticed."

The survey of 1,304 adults, including 1,213 registered voters, has a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points when adults are referenced and +/- 4.1 percentage points when referring to voters. That means results could be about 4 points higher or lower. The poll was conducted from May 9 to 13 by live interview callers, who reached respondents via cell phone and landline in English and in Spanish.

Democrats gain on congressional ballot

Democrats also got a boost on which party Americans want to control Congress. By a 47%-to-42% margin, this survey showed voters would cast their ballot in favor of a Democrat in their local congressional district if the election were held today.

For Democrats, that is a net increase on the so-called congressional ballot test of 8 points from last month's survey, when 47% said they would vote for a Republican, as compared to 44% who said they would vote for a Democrat. Those numbers were within the margin of error, but it was the first time in eight years that Republicans had done that well on the question in the Marist poll.

The question is whether this spike for Democrats lasts. Miringoff sees reason to believe it might.

"My sense of it is that this is not going to be one of those issues that shows up and vanishes soon thereafter," he said, "because so many of the states are going to then have the key decision making role in what the policy is within their jurisdiction."

Some cold water on these numbers, though — these are national figures, and control of the House isn't determined nationally, but in battleground districts. And Democrats acknowledge Republicans have the advantage there.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been circulating its latest internal battleground districts poll among the party's House members. Conducted before the Supreme Court leak, it showed a generic Republican beating a generic Democrat by a 47%-to-39% margin in battleground districts. The survey was first reported by Punchbowl News and confirmed by NPR.

A Democratic official says their polling also shows Democratic House incumbents are averaging about 5 points better than a generic candidate, however.

Undoubtedly, though, with inflation remaining high, President Biden's standing is weighing down Democratic candidates across the country. Biden's approval rating in the new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey ticked back down to 39%, though it's notable that a generic Democrat is outperforming Biden in the NPR survey. (That comes mostly from Democrats — more of whom say they would vote today for a Democrat in their congressional district than approve of the job Biden is doing.)

The leak had another impact — hurting the credibility of the Supreme Court as an institution. Just 40% said they had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the court, down 17 points from 2018, the last time Marist asked the question.

There's a lot of nuance on abortion restrictions

A quarter of respondents said abortion should be available at any point during a pregnancy. That's up from 18% in 2019.

Just 9% said it should never permitted, which is unchanged from 2019.

But then there's the very gray middle — about 1-in-5 favor allowing abortion in the first three months only; another 13% say it should be allowed in the first six months; another quarter say it should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the pregnant person; and 10% say it should be allowed only to save that life.

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Big majorities support the following changes to state laws:

  • 82% would like to see abortion permitted at any time during pregnancy to protect the life or health of the pregnant person;
  • 63% support providing safe haven for people seeking abortions from out of state;
  • 63% support allowing abortion any time during pregnancy in cases of rape or incest.
  • Big majorities oppose the following:

  • 80% don't want to allow private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who assists a pregnant person in getting an abortion;
  • 75% oppose making abortion a crime requiring fines and/or prison time for doctors who perform abortions;
  • 69% oppose allowing abortions only up to the time cardiac activity (about six to eight weeks) is detected;
  • 60% are against allowing abortion only up to the time of viability outside the womb at about 24 weeks. Majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans feel this way, but obviously for different reasons.
  • Americans are split on 15-week bans and allowing prescription drugs that induce abortions mailed to homes.

    When it comes to a 15-week ban, except for medical emergencies or when something is severely wrong with the fetus, people are split, with 49% opposing and 48% supporting it.

    A slim majority of Republicans support the ban (53%), while a majority of Democrats oppose (57%). And independents are split at 49% to 46% supporting one.

    On mailing abortion-inducing prescription drugs, 51% say they oppose allowing that, while 47% support it.

    There's a huge partisan divide here with 7-in-10 of Democrats in favor and 8-in-10 Republicans opposed.

    A majority of abortions actually take place early on in a pregnancy with the use of medication, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights group that tracks abortions. It also notes that overall nearly 9-in-10 abortions take place in the first three months of a pregnancy.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.