Supporters and opponents of Roe v. Wade see the Supreme Court’s ideology very differently

November 16, 2021, 6:33 PM UTC

In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, about half of Americans put the chance of the Court overturning Roe, the 1973 decision that established a Constitutional right to have an abortion, at about 50%. But more say that it is unlikely (30%) or definitely will not happen (8%) than think it is very likely (10%) or definitely will happen (4%). That’s roughly in line with what people expected when asked a month earlier.

Americans say they don’t want Roe overturned, by a margin of 52% to 27%, with 21% saying they are not sure. Among women, the margin is greater: 54% to 23%. Republicans, however, favor overturning Roe by more than two to one — 56% to 23%. Among Republicans, men are more in favor of overturning Roe than women are.

Supporters and opponents of the 1973 decision give similar estimates of the likelihood of the ruling being overturned by the Court. One reason for that may be that the two groups see the ideology of the Court differently, and that may influence their expectations. People see the Court as leaning away from the ruling they’d prefer. Americans who want Roe overturned are more likely to describe the Court as “moderate”: 48% see it that way, compared to 14% who see the Court as conservative or very conservative. Among Americans who want to keep Roe in place, just 21% call the Court moderate while 53% describe it as conservative or very conservative.

Last month the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the Texas law outlawing abortions after six weeks of pregnancy – but the arguments were not about whether Roe should stand or be overturned. The challenge centered on the Texas law’s unprecedented nature of enforcement: allowing people to sue anyone who facilitates an abortion.

Most Americans continue to disapprove of the Texas law, with a clear difference of opinion by gender. Men are evenly divided in their opinion of the Texas law, while most women disapprove of it. There is a large difference by party, too: Republicans overwhelmingly support the Texas law, while Democrats are largely opposed. But there are gender gaps within each political group. Among each group of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, women are more likely than men to oppose the Texas law.

Next month the Court will hear a challenge to a Mississippi law that does impact Roe. The law restricts abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That’s a few weeks after the end of the first trimester, the point after which Roe holds that abortions can’t be regulated. The Mississippi law splits the country, with as many Americans approving as disapproving. More men approve of the law than disapprove; more women disapprove than approve. And again there is more support among women than among men within each political group, with the largest gender split among Independents.

The Texas and Mississippi laws are well-known. Nearly 80% of Americans say they have heard at least something about the laws — about the same proportion as said so a month earlier.

Public support for Roe may be softer than the overall numbers appear. The 21% of Americans who say they aren’t sure about the law hold views on the legality of abortion that are much closer to people who say they want Roe overturned than to people who want to keep the decision. For example, about twice as many of the people who say they aren’t sure about Roe approve of the Texas and Mississippi laws as disapprove (half say they’re unsure on those, too).

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between November 6 and November 9, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty