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Poll Shows Majority of Americans Would Back Federal Abortion Rights Protections

The issue of abortion rights could help determine who wins in local, state and federal elections this fall.

Demonstrators participate in a abortion-rights rally outside the Supreme Court on March 26, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

A new poll demonstrates that, in this pivotal election year, abortion rights could play a key role in determining who will win the White House and control of Congress.

Several states across the country are set to hold referenda regarding abortion rights and access to the procedure. Those elections will have tremendous consequences for the states themselves, but could also motivate more supporters of abortion rights (and thus, Democratic-leaning voters) to turn out in key states and congressional districts.

Access to abortion is a globally recognized human right, and should not necessarily be determined by a vote. Nevertheless, following the Supreme Court’s 2022 overturn of longstanding federal abortion protections, the ballot booth has become a key tool to defend access to the right, including in some unexpected, conservative places, like Ohio and Kansas.

According to the Economist/YouGov poll that was published this week, a majority of Americans (61 percent) believe abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances. Thirty-two percent said it should only be legal when a person’s life is at risk due to a complicated pregnancy, while just 8 percent said the procedure should be banned entirely.

Respondents were split on whether abortion should be decided individually by states or the federal government, with each idea receiving 44 percent support. But even though voters were divided in their beliefs on that question, most said they would back a national right to abortion being passed by Congress, with 55 percent saying so and only 34 percent opposed to such a proposal.

When asked whether they would back a national abortion ban, the vast majority were opposed, with only 21 percent saying they’d support such a ban and nearly 7 in 10 (69 percent) saying they’d oppose it.

Ballot measures could also drive more Americans to vote, the poll found. A quarter of Americans (26 percent) said an abortion rights ballot initiative would make them more likely to participate in the election this fall — a small but significant number, particularly for House and Senate races where the outcome could come down to a small fraction of voters, including the presidential election.

Nearly half (49 percent) of participants in the poll said they would vote to protect or expand abortion access, while just a quarter of voters (26 percent) said they’d vote to restrict it. Seventeen percent said they were unsure of how they would vote.

The Economist/YouGov polling numbers come as several states are advancing referenda measures that would change their constitutions to include abortion rights protections for their residents.

At least three states have amendment proposals set for voters to decide on in November. In Florida, voters will decide whether abortion should be protected up to the point of fetal viability (usually around 22-25 weeks of pregnancy), with additional protections after that time in cases when a person’s life or health is at risk. (That ballot initiative, unlike many others, will require 60 percent of voters to support it in order to become an official amendment.) In Maryland, voters will decide on whether to define “reproductive freedom” in the constitution to include the right to make “decisions to prevent, continue or end one’s own pregnancy.” And New York voters will decide whether to prohibit the denial of rights based on a number of factors, including people’s “pregnancy [or] pregnancy outcomes.”

Nine other states could also potentially see an abortion rights measure on their ballots, including Arizona and Colorado, where advocates in both states say they’ve attained enough signatures to put amendment proposals on the ballot.

The inclusion of abortion rights measures on state ballots likely means that more Democratic-leaning voters will participate overall, which could be important in swing states and districts where Democratic and Republican candidates are currently running neck-and-neck.

Even President Joe Biden, whose record on abortion hasn’t always been stellar, is embracing the issue as one that will define his potential reelection to the White House, portraying himself as a defender of reproductive rights while emphasizing how former President Donald Trump, the GOP nominee for president this year, has diminished those rights.

Trump, who campaigned on overturning Roe v. Wade in 2016 and still openly celebrates his appointment of three right-wing Supreme Court justices who made that happen, has in recent weeks tried to portray himself as more moderate on abortion, claiming that he now believes the procedure should be a “states’ rights” issue. According to a recent Washington Post report, his decision to take that stance is likely motivated by politics rather than personal conviction, as it’s evident that abortion is a losing issue for Republicans across the country.

Biden, meanwhile, is trying to frame Trump as disastrous for abortion rights, noting that, were it not for the Trump presidency, abortion would likely still be a protected federal right across the entire U.S.

“Let’s be real clear: There’s one person responsible for this nightmare, and he’s acknowledged it and he brags about it: Donald Trump,” Biden said at a campaign event in Tampa earlier this week.

Biden has also expressed support for changing the Constitution to protect abortion rights.

“It should be a constitutional right in the federal Constitution, a federal right, and it shouldn’t matter where in America you live,” Biden said in the same speech.