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In a new U.S. poll, a majority identify as 'pro-choice' for the first time in decades

Abortion rights activists protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on May 3, a day after the leak of a draft opinion suggesting a possible reversal of <em>Roe v. Wade. </em>
Jose Luis Magana
Abortion rights activists protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on May 3, a day after the leak of a draft opinion suggesting a possible reversal of Roe v. Wade.

The percentage of Americans who consider themselves "pro-choice" has risen in the past year to 55%, its highest level in decades, according to a Gallup poll released Thursday.

That increase mainly was driven by Democrats, wrote Lydia Saad, the polling firm's director for U.S. social research, in a summary of the survey's findings. She attributed the shift to the recent Supreme Court draft opinion suggesting a possible end to Roe v. Wade.

Gallup surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. adults by telephone over three weeks beginning May 2 — the day Politico published a draft opinion suggesting that the Supreme Court could soon overturn Roe v. Wade. That decision would enable many states to dramatically restrict or ban abortions.

The poll found the highest pro-choice affiliation that Gallup has measured since 1995, when 56% of Americans identified as such. That number had fluctuated between 45% and 50% for the past decade before jumping six points in the latest survey.

"The prospect of the Supreme Court overturning the case that established women's right to seek an abortion has clearly jolted a segment of Americans into identifying with the pro-choice side of the issue and expressing more unequivocal support for abortion being legal," Saad wrote.

Democrats' pro-choice identification rose from 70% to 88% in the past year. There was no significant change among Republicans, independents, men or older Americans, Gallup said.

The survey also found that 52% of Americans consider abortion morally acceptable, the first time a majority has expressed that view since Gallup began asking the question in 2001. A record-low 38% call it morally wrong.

Some of the survey's other notable findings:

  • Some 39% of Americans identify as pro-life, the lowest percentage since 1996.
  • Pro-choice identification increased by nine percentage points to 61% among women, 12 points to 67% among adults aged 18 to 34 and nine points to 58% among adults ages 35 to 54.
  • Support for abortion being legal under any or most circumstances jumped among Democrats, jumping from 69% to 82%, and among adults aged 18 to 34, rising from 52% to 63%. It's higher among women (59%) than men (45%).  
  • Support for abortion being broadly legal increased seven points over the past year among political independents, but not for Republicans or Americans over the age of 55. 
  • A majority of Americans (55%) are generally opposed to abortion in the second trimester, while 36% think it should be legal. Some 71% believe abortion should be illegal in the third trimester.
  • A note on language

    In keeping with AP Style, NPR — and many other U.S. news outlets— avoids the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life" except when they are part of the name of a group (the Public Editor's office explained this policy in a 2019 column).

    Gallup specifically asked people whether they considered themselves to be pro-choice or pro-life, explaining in its summary that those are the "prevailing terms used by the two major sides of the issue" in the national discussion.

    Still, it acknowledged that Americans' interpretation of the terms can change in response to major events — and that this could help account for the recent spike in pro-choice identification.

    "In the aftermath of the leaked opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson, being pro-life may be more associated than ever with being against Roe v. Wade," Gallup said. "This could have pushed some former pro-life identifiers who feel ambivalently about abortion but favor Roe v. Wade to now put themselves in the pro-choice camp."

    There is broad public support for keeping Roe

    The survey's findings fit with broader public opinion polling about Americans' views on abortion and Roe.

    An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released mid-May, for example, found that some 64% of Americans opposed overturning Roe (compared to 58% according to Gallup).

    NPR's survey similarly found that the leaked draft opinion was having a galvanizing effect on Democrats. Two-thirds of Democrats said the contents of the draft opinion made them more likely to vote in the November midterm elections, compared to just 40% of Republicans — who are favored to regain control of the House and possibly the Senate this year.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.