If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the conventional wisdom assumes that will help Democrats. The only question is how much. That assumption is based on years of polling, showing that a solid majority of voters oppose overturning that 1973 ruling. My own polling shows the same results.
However, a deeper look at the data suggests that conventional wisdom may be wrong.
Let’s begin with the reality that any poll asking whether voters want to overturn Roe is meaningless. Why? Because voters don’t know what overturning that decision would mean.
Seventy-seven percent of voters mistakenly think it would make abortion illegal in the United States. Forty-one percent simply don’t know what it would mean (36 percent). Just 22 percent have some understanding of the issue. If people don’t understand what overturning Roe would mean, how can you possibly interpret polling data showing that people don’t want it overturned?
To get a true sense of public opinion, it’s necessary to ask polling questions without D.C. political jargon. When you do that, it becomes clear that most voters will be okay with the result of overturning Roe.
With Roe in place, the abortion laws are set by judges. However, 65 percent of voters think abortion laws should be established by voters and their elected representatives. That’s exactly what will happen if Roe is overturned. Just 18 percent want to preserve the status quo.
If Democrats truly believed voters were with them on this issue, they would celebrate this triumph of democracy. Instead, they are outraged. Perhaps they recognize that overturning Roe will call their bluff and highlight the unpopularity of their policy desires.
Consider, for example, the legislation that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has scheduled for a vote this week. Presented as an attempt to codify Roe v. Wade, the legislation is loaded down with extremely unpopular provisions.
Democrats’ Abortion Bill Provisions Lack Support
The bill would make abortion legal at any point during the pregnancy, up to the moment of birth. That extreme position, now embraced by President Joe Biden, is supported by only 17 percent of voters. The vast majority — 72 percent —reject that extreme position.
Thirty-eight percent of respondents believe abortion should be legal only in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk. Thirty-four percent believe abortion should be legal only during the early stages of a pregnancy, and not later than the end of the first trimester.
The proposed legislation would also bring an end to the Hyde Amendment and calls for the taxpayer funding of abortions. Just 30 percent of voters support such funding.
The legislation would prevent states from imposing modest restrictions on abortion, which have strong public support. Three-day waiting periods, spousal notifications, and parental notifications are each supported by 62 percent to 69 percent of voters.
Out of Step with Voters
With numbers like that, why would any swing-state senator want to be on record voting for late-term abortions, taxpayer funding of abortions, or the elimination of popular and very modest restrictions? Why would Schumer force them to do so?
There is no easy way out for Democrats. Their progressive base is demanding policies wildly out of step with the broad consensus of American voters. Seventy-three percent of voters agree there are two lives to consider in this debate — the mother and the baby. Voters may disagree on precisely when life begins, but there is a strong sense that at some point fairly early in the pregnancy, the fetus becomes a baby.
Democrats, of course, argue that Republican state legislatures are imposing extreme restrictions on abortions, such as no abortion allowed after a heartbeat is detected. Such laws may be pushing the limits of the public consensus on abortion, but they are far from extreme. The public is closely divided on such laws, but more voters favor such restrictions than oppose them.
More broadly, 66 percent of voters agree it’s important to protect a woman’s right to choose, but that decision should be made early in the pregnancy. Not surprisingly, therefore, voters strongly prefer a candidate who says abortion should be allowed only during the first three months of pregnancy (56 percent), rather than one who thinks it should be allowed at any point during the pregnancy (23 percent).
The 2022 elections are shaping up to be a difficult year for Democrats. However, overturning Roe will not save President Biden’s party. It will simply highlight one more issue: the progressive party is out of step with the American people.