A new Knights of Columbus (KoC)/Marist poll spells very bad news for the Democrats running for president in 2020. On the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (1973), the historic Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, most Americans support overturning Roe, oppose taxpayer funding for abortion, and support political candidates who pledge to enact legal restrictions on abortion.
Although most Americans identified as “pro-choice” (55 percent) in the poll, they supported restrictions on abortion and fundamental alterations to Roe v. Wade often associated with the pro-life position, even though only 40 percent identified themselves as “pro-life.”
“It’s very hard to overstate the importance of the nuance in the pro-choice label,” Andrew Walther, vice president of communications and strategic planning at the Knights of Columbus, said in a call with reporters. “That label as an indicator of position is largely meaningless.”
When the pollsters asked about concrete policy positions, those who identified as pro-choice proved surprisingly willing to support restrictions on abortion.
Only 21 percent of Americans said abortion should be “available to a woman any time during the entire pregnancy,” while another 9 percent said abortion should be available “only during the first six months of pregnancy.” A vast majority of Americans (70 percent) said abortion should be restricted to the first three months of pregnancy (24 percent); cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother (26 percent); only cases involving a threat to the mother’s life (11 percent); or never in any circumstance (9 percent).
Almost half of those who identified as pro-choice (47 percent) supported these restrictions on abortion. Many said they would restrict abortion to the first three months (35 percent) or to cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the mother’s life (10 percent). Only 36 percent of those who identified as “pro-choice” said they support allowing abortion any time during a woman’s pregnancy.
The vast majority of Americans (75 percent) said a candidate’s position on abortion is a deciding factor in their vote. More “pro-life” Americans (45 percent) than “pro-choice” Americans (35 percent) said abortion was a “major factor.”
While these positions may give 2020 Democrats pause, the poll also asked Americans about what kind of candidate they would support.
Only 25 percent of Americans said they would be “most likely to vote” for a candidate who thinks abortion should be available at any time during a woman’s pregnancy. The vast majority (65 percent) said they would be most likely to vote for a candidate who would restrict abortion to the first three months (23 percent); restrict abortion to cases of rape, incest, and a threat to the mother’s life (23 percent); allow abortion only to save the mother’s life (12 percent); or never permit abortion in any circumstance (7 percent).
These restrictions enjoyed strong support in every political party. Republicans overwhelmingly supported them (88 percent), while a majority of Independents backed them (62 percent), and even 44 percent of Democrats agreed. By contrast, while 41 percent of Democrats would vote for a candidate who supports unrestricted abortion, only 9 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of Independents would.
Most Americans also supported fundamental changes to Roe v. Wade and other abortion precedents. “Which comes closest to your view of what the Supreme Court should do when it reconsiders Roe v. Wade,” the pollsters asked. Almost half (46 percent) said they want the Court to “allow certain restrictions on abortion as determined by each state,” while a third (33 percent) said the Court should “allow abortion to be legal without restriction at any time,” and another 16 percent said the Court should “make abortion illegal.”
In other words, 62 percent supported overturning Roe and allowing the states to make their own laws on abortion. Even 38 percent of those who identified themselves as “pro-life” supported allowing states to make their own laws on abortion, as did 34 percent of Democrats.
Americans also oppose using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion (60 percent). Most Independents (55 percent) and Republicans (90 percent) oppose taxpayer funding for abortion, but even 35 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of those who identify as “pro-choice” also oppose it.
By contrast, the leading Democratic candidates for president hold extreme positions on abortion and celebrated Roe v. Wade on Wednesday.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted, “58 new abortion restrictions were enacted across the country in 2019. Laws like these are dangerous, regressive, and blatantly unconstitutional. On the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must continue to stand up for women’s reproductive freedom and protect access to abortion.”
58 new abortion restrictions were enacted across the country in 2019.
Laws like these are dangerous, regressive, and blatantly unconstitutional.
On the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must continue to stand up for women’s reproductive freedom and protect access to abortion. https://t.co/tcXLdGBR1d
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 22, 2020
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) agreed. She tweeted, “47 years ago today, [Roe v. Wade] established the constitutional right to abortion. But right-wing ideologues are trying to turn back the clock. I’ve got a plan to protect our rights and ensure real access to birth control and abortion for all.”
47 years ago today, #RoeVWade established the constitutional right to abortion. But right-wing ideologues are trying to turn back the clock. I've got a plan to protect our rights and ensure real access to birth control and abortion for all. #7in10ForRoe https://t.co/mJieYM78Ie
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) January 22, 2020
“On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided Roe v Wade. 47 years later, there are still coordinated attacks, particularly in state legislatures, on women’s health. We will fight attempts to turn back the clock, and we will codify Roe into law,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) added.
On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided Roe v Wade.
47 years later, there are still coordinated attacks, particularly in state legislatures, on women's health. We will fight attempts to turn back the clock, and we will codify Roe into law.
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) January 22, 2020
In October, former Vice President Joe Biden called for codifying Roe v. Wade into law. Pete Buttigieg may have just been a mayor in South Bend, Ind., but he managed to rack up a radical track record on abortion to match his extreme rhetoric on the issue.
Most of the 2020 Democrats also oppose the Hyde Amendment, which forbids taxpayer dollars from supporting abortion.
The KoC/Marist poll shows just how radical these proposals are, and why they will be toxic at the ballot box, no matter which candidate wins the Democratic primary.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.