A closer look at the latest Gallup numbers on abortion

By Dave Andrusko

Yesterday, we took a first stab at interpreting two sets of abortion numbers from Gallup. The first results were about mifepristone [“Most Americans Favor Availability of Abortion Pill”] and the second about under what circumstance respondents believed abortion should be legal [“Broader Support for Abortion Rights Continues Post-Dobbs”]. 

We covered mifepristone at some length yesterday so this follow-up investigates under what conditions Americans feel abortion should be legal.

The most important conclusion is that support for abortion crested in the immediate aftermath of the leaking of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court case that overturned 50 years of Roe, and then dropped.

As John McCormack accurately summarized

Americans are less supportive of a right to abortion now than they were after the Dobbs leak, in May 2022, but more supportive than they had been in the years leading up to Dobbs.

Gallup’s “Broader Support for Abortion Rights Continues Post-Dobbs” is true but misleading. Stay with me, it gets fairly complicated.

To begin with, the key difference from polls other than Gallup’s is that ever since 1975 Gallup has asked people what they meant when they say they believed abortion should be legal “only under certain circumstances.” Did that mean they want abortion to be legal “in most or only a few circumstances?”

Gallup’s Lydia Saad wrote, “Specifically, close to half of Americans, 47%, now say abortion should be legal in all (34%) or most (13%) circumstances, while a similar proportion, 49%, want it legal in only a few (36%) or illegal in all (13%) circumstances.”

What were the numbers a year ago in the post-Dobbs frenzy? 

Gallup found that 53% said abortion should be legal in all (35%) or most (18%) circumstances while 45% said it should be legal in few (32%) or no (13%) circumstances.

So on this benchmark question this year’s results showed a net gain of about 4% for the pro-life side. That is important to remember.

McCormack writes, “69 percent of respondents say it should be legal in the first trimester — two points higher than last year. But by a 55 percent to 37 percent margin, Gallup finds, Americans say abortion should be illegal in the second trimester, which starts at the 13th week of pregnancy, and only 22 percent say abortion should be legal in the last three months of pregnancy.”

Of course, there is a sharp difference of opinion between Democrats and Republicans, sharper than ever: “A majority of Democratic voters has finally caught up to congressional Democrats’ stance on abortion: Fully 60 percent of Democratic voters now say abortion should be legal under any circumstances — a ten-point jump from 2021,” McCormack writes. “Back in 2010, during Barack Obama’s first term, only 33 percent of Democrats said abortion should be legal under any circumstances.

One other data point. More Americans identified as pro-choice than identified as pro-life by 49 percent to 47 percent— just a two-point margin—in 2021.

“That margin swelled to a 16-point advantage for the pro-choice side — 55 percent to 39 percent — immediately after the Dobbs leak,” McCormack writes. “Now, one year later, that advantage has been cut in half to an eight-point margin — 52 percent pro-choice to 44 percent pro-life”—illustrating yet again that the advantage enjoyed by pro-abortions in the immediate aftermath of Dobbs has dropped.

We may revisit these numbers a third time. Stay tuned.