By Michael J. New
Last month, the Wall Street Journal released the results of a new abortion poll which they conducted with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC). The spin is that there has been a substantial short-term gain in support for legal abortion in 2023. Indeed, the headline of the article about the poll states, “Support for Abortion Access is Near Record.” However, a closer look at the actual survey results reveals a much different narrative.
Indeed, the WSJ article fails to mention that support for legal abortion slightly decreased since May 2022 — the last time that the WSJ and NORC polled people about abortion. The percentage of people who felt that a pregnant women should be able to obtain a legal abortion “for any reason” fell from 57 percent to 55 percent between May 2022 and October 2023. In short, this poll shows the June 2022 Dobbs decision had very little impact on public attitudes toward abortion.
The article provides some evidence of a long-term gain in support for legal abortion. There may be less here than meets the eye though. The author obtains pre-2022 abortion-opinion data from the General Social Surveys (GSS) conducted by the NORC. However, the General Social Surveys are much longer and contain questions about a much wider range of topics than the recent WSJ/NORC polls. Research shows that survey responses to abortion questions are very sensitive to a range of factors, including preceding questions. As such, comparing data from the recent WSJ/NORC polls to data from older GSS polls may be misleading.
Overall, many media outlets have tried to make the case that there has been a substantial gain in public support for legal abortion since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. However, the data do not necessarily bear that out. The May 2023 Gallup poll actually found a five-percentage-point gain in pro-life sentiment since May 2022. The annual Knights of Columbus/Marist poll also found a great deal of stability in abortion attitudes since Dobbs. Pro-lifers have not enjoyed success with statewide direct democracy campaigns in the past year, but that does not appear be due to large shifts in public opinion.
As always, pro-lifers would do well to stay the course.
Editor’s note. This appeared at National Review Online and is reposted with permission.