Issue polling in general is tricky, and the issue of abortion rights is particularly hard to poll. While it does seem that more Americans want the procedure to be legal than not, people on all sides of the issue can find something they like in the polling on abortion.
But when it came to the questions that most mirror our current abortion debate, support usually nominally outruns opposition.
Roe v. Wade, among other things, gave women the unimpeded constitutional right to an abortion in the first trimester. Perhaps not surprisingly, somewhere around 60% of Americans are in favor of keeping first-trimester abortions legal.
It depends on the question
From there, support for abortion rights declines.
What these findings tell is that few Americans want abortion to always be legal and even fewer want it to be always illegal. Instead, the abortion debate comes down to coalitions.
In this case, the coalition who want abortion to be at least mostly legal (56%) outruns the coalition that wants it illegal at least most of the time (43%).
An even different question, but one that should be familiar to followers of the abortion debate, is whether people label themselves “pro-choice” (normally framed as pro-abortion rights) or “pro-life” (normally framed as anti-abortion).
When you see these different results, you get to understand why surveys on Americans’ opinions of abortion often raise more questions than they answer.
Where the voters are
That said, the ballot box does offer some clues about the questions we should focus on to understand where American voters are.
Alabama, Louisiana and West Virginia voted in favor of limiting rights, while Colorado and Oregon went in the other direction.
More interestingly, the results of those ballot measures matched up very well with the percentage of people in those states who think abortion should be always or mostly legal.
The only real outlier was West Virginia, where a surprisingly low 52% of voters cast a ballot against a constitutional right to an abortion. Polling in this very red state has generally indicated more opposition to abortion rights.
Remember, more Americans believe abortion should usually or always be legal than not, so on this key question, it’s fair to say the pro-abortion rights coalition is bigger than the anti-abortion one.
Of course, this isn’t the case in every state. Although the polling is close, there are about 15 states where more residents than not think abortion should be always or mostly illegal.
And if Roe v. Wade does get overturned, it’ll ultimately be this state-level polling that matters most.