In the months leading up to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, polls indicated that if the Court were to overrule Roe v. Wade, the resurgent abortion issue would probably help Democrats in the midterms.
November is still months away, and the early evidence from special elections is hazy. But in public opinion research, the impact is clear: Every poll taken since Dobbs shows a significant boost for Democrats.
Here’s an overview of the evidence so far.
1. Dobbs is energizing Democrats more than Republicans.
The Court issued its ruling on the morning of June 24. In a CBS News/YouGov survey taken on June 24 and 25, 50 percent of Democrats said the Court’s decision to overturn Roe made them more likely to vote in the midterms. Among Republicans, the number was only 20 percent. A Marist/NPR/PBS poll found almost the same gap: by 24 percentage points, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say that Court’s ruling increased their inclination to vote.
Many Republicans were already eager to vote based on other issues, chiefly inflation. So perhaps their enthusiasm didn’t have much room to grow. Still, they could have indicated that the abortion ruling would add to their motivation. They didn’t. And that makes sense, because voters tend to be mobilized by anger, not satisfaction. The simplest explanation for the partisan gap in polls is that Dobbs has alarmed pro-choice voters, not pro-life voters.
2. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to name abortion as their top issue.
In a Yahoo News/YouGov survey taken from June 24 to 27, 17 percent of Democrats said abortion was the most important issue in this year’s election. (There was only one issue that a larger number of Democrats ranked as the most important: democracy.) Meanwhile, only 5 percent of Republicans listed abortion as their highest priority. Inflation and other concerns explain part of this discrepancy: 51 percent of Republicans listed that as their top issue. But inflation is hitting Democratic voters, too—yet one in six said abortion was more important.
3. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to base their voting decisions on this issue.
In a Politico/Morning Consult poll taken on June 24 and 25, Republican voters expressed more willingness than Democrats to tolerate candidates who disagreed with them on abortion. By a 10-point margin, Republicans said it was more important to vote for a candidate who “agrees with my stance on most issues, even if they disagree with my stance on abortion access” than to vote for a candidate who “agrees with my stance on abortion access, even if they disagree with me on other issues.” Democrats leaned the other way: By 16 points, they said it was more important to set aside other issues and vote for a candidate who agreed with them on abortion. When the poll divided respondents by their abortion positions rather than by party, the gap was almost identical: Pro-choice voters were less tolerant of dissent than were pro-life voters.
Economist/YouGov surveys taken from June 25 to 28 and from July 2 to 5 found similar results. Three of every five Democrats, compared to two of every five Republicans, said they would “vote for or against a candidate just on the basis of their position on the abortion issue.” And in a Cygnal poll of battleground states, taken from June 25 to 26 for the Republican State Leadership Committee, Democrats held a 12-point advantage among single-issue likely voters. The poll found that 35 percent of these voters—those who said they wouldn’t cast ballots for candidates with whom they disagreed on abortion—were Republicans. But 47 percent were Democrats.
4. Support for abortion rights is a net positive for candidates.
In the Politico survey, 26 percent of registered voters said it was very important to cast their ballots for a candidate in the midterms who “opposes abortion access.” But a larger group, 43 percent, said it was very important to vote instead for a candidate who “supports abortion access.” In the Marist poll, 51 percent of registered voters said they would definitely vote for “a candidate for Congress who will support a federal law to restore Roe versus Wade and the right to abortion.” Only 36 percent said they would definitely vote against such a candidate.
5. Abortion helps Democrats on the generic ballot.
Throughout the year, Republicans have led Democrats on the generic ballot, which asks voters which party they’re inclined to support in the upcoming election. But in surveys taken since Dobbs, when the choice between the parties is framed around abortion, Democrats win. In the Yahoo News poll, when voters were asked about a congressional race between “a Democratic Party candidate who is pro-choice on abortion” and “a Republican Party candidate who is pro-life on abortion,” 47 percent chose the Democrat. Only 32 percent chose the Republican. The results were almost identical when the options were presented as a Democrat “who wants to keep abortions legal” and a Republican “who wants to ban abortions.”
All of these findings are consistent with voters’ overall opinions on abortion. When they’re asked to identify themselves as pro-life or pro-choice, and when they’re asked whether most abortions should be legal or illegal, the pro-life percentage is usually in the low- to mid-30s, while the pro-choice percentage ranges from the low 50s to low 60s. Even in the more conservative states—those in which respondents say their state governments have already restricted abortion or are likely to restrict it—the Politico poll found that while voters are split on an abortion ban at 15 weeks, they oppose a ban at six weeks. And even Trump voters and rank-and-file Republicans are more likely to oppose than to support a federal ban on abortion.
Republican candidates still have big advantages on other issues. Most voters are feeling squeezed by inflation and unhappy with the Biden administration, so it’s still likely that Republicans will win enough seats to capture the House of Representatives. But if they don’t, or if their margin of control ends up being smaller than expected, the reason probably won’t be some revelation from the January 6th hearings. It will be Dobbs.