Last week, the Supreme Court decided to let a Texas law forbidding abortions after six weeks of pregnancy stand for now. The Court made that decision without hearing arguments. The decision is unpopular — and the Court’s popularity has declined, as well.
A plurality of Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll disapprove of the Texas law (50%, to 36% who approve), disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision (42%, to 36% who approve), and think the Court ought to have heard arguments before making the decision (50%, to 30% who say the Court didn’t need to hear oral arguments). Democrats overwhelmingly disapprove of the law (76% to 15%), the decision (69% to 15%), and not holding arguments (76% to 11%).
Republicans approve of each, though generally by narrower margins: 70% approve of the law while 21% disapprove, 65% approve of the decision while 15% disapprove, and 55% say the Court didn’t need to hear oral arguments, to 26% who say it should have.
This case underscores the massive party divide on the issue of abortion. A large majority of Americans continue to believe that abortion should be legal at least in some cases (86%), while only 14% would outlaw it entirely. Democrats and Republicans are on opposite sides: Half of Democrats (50%) would allow all abortions, while one in four Republicans (24%) would outlaw all of abortions, and two-thirds of Republicans (67%) would not allow abortions under certain circumstances, such as for minors.
In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that states could not impose an undue burden on women seeking abortions. The current Court will likely review this decision in the fall. More Americans do not want to see Roe v Wade overturned than do want it to (50% to 28%), as has been the case for many years. Party differences are stark. Most Republicans (56%) want to overturn Roe, compared to 24% who don’t. More than three-quarters of Democrats (77%) would not overturn Roe, compared to 11% who would. More Independents would preserve the ruling (48%) than would not (29%).
The decision itself appears to drive people’s opinion of how it was arrived at. Just 17% of those who approve of the Court’s decision believe the Court should have held oral arguments before deciding, while 70% disagree.
The decision also has coincided with a drop in Democrats’ approval of the Court, by 11 points in the last week to 22% from 33%, and 20 points from two weeks ago. Republican Court approval is 13 points higher (57%) than it was two weeks ago (44%) but little changed in the last week (from 55%). As a result, more Americans disapprove than approve of the Court’s job performance this week — a rare negative reading of net Court approval (35% approve, 45% disapprove). Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration is suing Texas over the law.
Other Supreme Court decisions have shifted Americans’ opinion of the Court itself. After the Court once again confirmed the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in early June, the share of Democrats approving of the Supreme Court soared to 52%, with 29% disapproving. Republicans also approved of the Court, but by a lower margin (47%-35%). The Court had decided in the same week that a foster care agency in Philadelphia could reject same-sex couple applicants.
Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between September 4 - 7, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.8% for the overall sample.