Support for abortion rights hits new high as midterm outlook is grim for Democrats

WASHINGTON — Support for abortion rights has reached a record high, and nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, according to a new national NBC News poll conducted after the leak of a draft opinion that would strike down the constitutional right to abortion.

What’s more, the survey finds abortion climbing up the list of issues that Americans believe are the most important, and that Democratic interest in the upcoming midterms has increased since earlier this year.

But the poll also found that this Supreme Court draft opinion hasn’t substantially altered the overall political environment heading into November’s elections — with inflation and the economy remaining the public’s top issues, President Joe Biden’s job rating falling below 40 percent and a whopping 75 percent of Americans saying the country is headed in the wrong direction.

It’s the fourth straight NBC News poll with the wrong-track number higher than 70 percent, and the fifth time in the poll’s 34-year history when the wrong-track number hit 75 percent or higher. 

The other times were in 2008 (during the Great Recession) and 2013 (during a government shutdown). 

“It is a flashing red light when you see a number like this,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates. 

“Americans are telling us this is as bad as 2008,” McInturff added. 

Yet given these numbers, Democrats are still tied with Republicans in the poll’s question of which party should control Congress.  

“It is remarkable that preference for control of Congress is even overall, and that the gap in interest in the election has narrowed,” said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster. 

Six in 10 say abortion should be legal

According to the poll, a combined 60 percent of Americans say abortion should be either always legal (37 percent) or legal most of the time (23 percent) — the highest share believing it should be legal on this question, which dates back to 2003. 

By contrast, a combined 37 percent say abortion should be illegal either with exceptions (32 percent) or without exceptions (5 percent).  

By party, 84 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents want abortion to be legal, versus just 33 percent of Republicans. 

Additionally, 63 percent of respondents oppose the Supreme Court overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy.

Thirty percent would support the court overturning the decision.

When this question was last asked in 2018, 71 percent said they opposed overturning Roe v. Wade, while 23 percent said they supported it. 

And a majority of registered voters — 52 percent — say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade; 26 percent say they are more likely to vote for this candidate. 

Biden’s job rating falls to 39 percent

The NBC News poll also finds 39 percent of Americans approving of President Biden’s job as president, versus 56 percent who say they disapprove. 

While Biden’s approval rating is essentially unchanged from March’s poll — when it was at 40 percent — the new number represents the lowest mark of his presidency. 

Only 33 percent approve of Biden’s handling of the economy (unchanged from March), 41 percent approve of his handling of the war between Russia and Ukraine (also unchanged) and 59 percent approve of the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic (up 8 points). 

Sixty-five percent of adults say their family’s income is falling behind the cost of living; 28 percent say it’s staying about even; and 6 percent say it’s going up faster than the cost of living. 

The cost of living remains the public’s top issue facing the country — followed by jobs and the economy; voting rights and election integrity; abortion; immigration and the border; and climate change. 

Democratic interest in midterms rises

Despite those rough numbers for Biden and Democrats, the poll contains some positive news for the party. 

For starters, congressional preference for the outcome of November’s midterm elections is tied. Forty-six percent of registered voters say they want Republicans to control Congress, and an equal 46 percent want Democrats in charge. 

In March’s NBC News poll, Republicans held a 2 point edge here, 46 percent to 44 percent, though the change was well within the poll’s margin of error.  

Maybe more significantly, Democratic interest in the midterms has increased — from 50 percent of Democrats in March who indicated a high level of interest (either a “9” or “10” on a 10-point scale) to 61 percent now. 

That’s compared to Republicans, who were at 67 percent high interest two months ago, versus 69 percent now. 

“How [abortion] plays out in November is to be determined. but for now, it is injecting some much-needed enthusiasm into parts of the Democratic coalition,” said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster. 

But McInturff counters that Republicans still hold an 8 point lead in high interest over Democrats, 69 percent to 61 percent. 

“It is true that Democratic interest is up,” he said, “but we can’t lose sight that Republicans still enjoy an advantage that augurs well for election success.”

The state of the two political parties

The NBC News poll also looks at the state of the Democratic and Republican parties ahead of key upcoming primaries on May 17 and May 24. 

Among Democratic primary voters, 63 percent say they prefer a candidate who proposes larger-scale policies even if they cost more and might he harder to pass, versus 33 percent who prefer a candidate who proposes smaller-scale policies that cost less and might be easier to pass.

That’s a shift from February 2020 — during the Democratic presidential primary season — when 53 percent wanted candidates proposing larger-scale policies, versus 41 percent who wanted candidate with smaller-scale policies. 

As for Republican primary voters, 55 percent believe the party should continue to be led by former President Donald Trump; 33 percent say he was a good president but it’s time for new leaders; and 10 percent say he was a bad president, and it’s time to move on.

On a separate question, however, 34 percent of Republicans in the poll identify themselves more as supporters of Trump, while 58 percent consider themselves more as supporters of the party.

In Jan. 2021, Republicans were split down the middle on that question, with 46 percent saying they were more Trump supporters, and with another 46 percent saying they were more party supporters. 

Other findings in the poll

The percentage of Americans supporting same-sex marriage has jumped to a new all-time high in the survey, with 65 percent favoring it (up from 60 percent in 2017); 33 percent say American society has gone too far in accepting transgender people; 35 percent say society hasn’t gone far enough; and 25 percent say it’s reached a reasonable balance; and the net positive/negative rating for attitudes about the U.S. Supreme Court (36 positive, 35 percent negative) is at its lowest point in the poll since 1992. 

The NBC News poll was conducted May 5-7, 9-10 of 1,000 adults — including 750 on their cell phone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.  

The margin of error of for the 790 registered voters surveyed is plus-minus 3.49 percentage points.