A growing share of Americans expect the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade

December 09, 2021, 11:06 PM UTC

While few Americans say they want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision which gave women the right to access abortion, the latest Economist/YouGov Poll shows an increase in the expectation that Roe will be overturned. Supporters of the decision that limits states from regulating abortions are especially likely to expect it to be overturned.

In last week’s poll, conducted before the Court heard arguments over a new Mississippi abortion law, far more Americans said either that it was unlikely that Roe would be overturned or it definitely won’t happen (36%) than said it definitely will happen or was very likely (15%). This week equal numbers think it more likely than not as think it more unlikely than not that Roe is overturned. In both weeks about half of Americans said there was a 50% chance.

Last week, there was not a big difference in expectations about the Court overturning Roe between Americans who want to see it overturned and those who don’t. Now, after the arguments on the Mississippi law, Americans who want Roe to remain are 10 points more likely than those who don’t to think its demise is likely or definite. Like last week, majorities of both supporters and opponents of Roe think the chance of it being overturned is at least 50%.

The Mississippi case that may lead to the overturning of a nearly 50-year-old decision (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) divides Americans evenly. In this week’s poll, 43% approve of Mississippi’s law that stops abortion a few weeks after a pregnancy’s first trimester, and 43% disapprove; that’s little changed from the week before. There is greater opposition to a stricter Texas law that would stop abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Many Americans hold seemingly conflicted opinions about abortion, highlighting how the country is divided. While 45% agree with the statement that abortion is the same thing as murdering a child, 44% disagree. But among people who see abortion as murder, more than one in four also agree that abortion is sometimes the best solution in a bad situation. Overall, Americans agree with that statement by 55% to 34%. And among people who view abortion as murder, 21% also say that forcing someone to remain in an unwanted pregnancy is an infringement on bodily autonomy. Overall, 51% agree with this statement, while 38% disagree.

The Supreme Court, like other branches of government today, is not well-liked. This week, just 31% approve of how the Supreme Court is handling its job – the lowest positive rating it has had all year — while 44% disapprove. That still leaves the Court in a better position than the other two branches of the federal government: 52% of Americans say they disapprove of how Joe Biden is handling his job as president, more than ever before, while 60% disapprove of Congress’s performance.

The Court, which now has six members appointed by Republican Presidents, does get approval from more Republicans than it gets disapproval: 46% approve of the Court, while 39% do not. Democrats disapprove of the Court by a margin of greater than two to one: 58% to 23%. Slightly more Independents disapprove (41%) than approve (35%).

As for individual Justices, only three get favorable evaluations – and only by the narrowest of margins. Sonia Sotomayor gets a favorable rating from 34% of the public, while 29% view her unfavorably. Those percentages for Clarence Thomas are 34% and 31%, respectively. And the share of Americans viewing Elena Kagan favorably is just one percentage point higher than the share viewing her unfavorably. 

The other Justices each are at least as likely to be seen negatively as positively. The two newest Justices, Donald Trump nominees Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett who joined the court after contentious confirmation battles, are seen most negatively.

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 December 4 and December 7, 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