NBC/WSJ poll: For first time, majority thinks abortion should be legal in all or most cases

If you’re hung over from drinking the blues away on Inauguration Day, bad news: It’s time to open another beer. New numbers on the 40th anniversary of Roe:

According to the poll, 54 percent of adults say that abortion should be legal either always or most of the time, while a combined 44 percent said it should be illegal – either with or without exceptions…

In addition, a whopping 70 percent of Americans oppose the Roe v. Wade decision from being overturned, including 57 percent who feel strongly about this…

By comparison, just 24 percent now want the Roe v. Wade decision overturned, including 21 percent who feel strongly about this position.

Much of this change, the NBC/WSJ pollsters say, is coming from African Americans, Latinos and women without college degrees — all of whom increasingly oppose the Supreme Court decision from being overturned.

Before today the highest number NBC/WSJ had recorded for keeping abortion legal in all or most cases was 49 percent in 2008. When you drill down into that data, you find that the number who want abortion legal in all cases — no exceptions, presumably not even for late term — is 31 percent, which is also a new high. Say this for Obama’s new coalition — they elected the right guy.

As for overturning Roe, despite the sturm and drang of Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Americans have never been keen on doing so. Pew’s recent poll on abortion found 63 percent opposed to the idea; in 1992, the number was 60 percent. NBC/WSJ sees a bit more movement over time but support for the status quo has been constant through the years in their data too:

Why the recent uptick? NBC’s pollsters speculate it’s partly a backlash to the Akin/Mourdock rape comments last year, but I don’t know. My sense is that backlashes like that tend to burn out fairly quickly. Obama won and Akin and Mourdock both lost, so the “threat” of a post-Roe world has passed for abortion supporters. I think the likelier explanation, as noted in the excerpt, is changing demographics. Pew published a set of polls a few weeks after the election showing that the 18-to-29 group that got Obama reelected was also the age demographic most supportive of keeping abortion legal in all or most cases. They were also far more likely — 14 points more likely — than any other age group to say that government should do more than that government is doing too much. Imagine their surprise when they find out America can’t pay for the government it has right now.

Now that you’ve digested those numbers, try to digest this one. Exit question: Do these numbers augur the eventual end of SCOTUS confirmation fights over Roe? A newly elected Republican president would be caught between social conservatives in his base, who want the decision overturned, and pretty much the entire rest of the electorate, which doesn’t. Makes me wonder if GOP candidates won’t start veering away from the idea of getting rid of Roe via new appointments and pushing the idea of a Human Life Amendment instead. They could sell it is a true democratic solution, the way the Founders intended, knowing all the while that it hasn’t a prayer of passing.

Update: Almost forgot: If you believe Pew, a majority of the 18-to-29 group that’s now steering the ship of state and that strongly opposes overturning Roe doesn’t know which issue Roe v. Wade actually dealt with.

Update: Life News notes that the poll question is misleading in how it describes the core holding of Roe. Fair enough, but assuming that the question has been similarly worded over time, you’re still seeing support increase since the late 1980s for a ruling that protects abortion within the first three months of pregnancy. And the more generic question, about whether abortion should be legal all or most of the time, has drawn majority support in other polls as well. Scroll through Polling Report’s compilation of data over the past few years. In a Gallup poll conducted last May, 50 percent identified as “pro-life” versus just 41 percent who identified as “pro-choice.” But when asked whether abortion should be legal always or sometimes, 52 percent said it should be legal sometimes and another 21 percent said always. There’s room for some optimism in those numbers — the public may be open to greater restrictions — but there’s a lot of work to be done to build a majority for an outright ban. In fact, maybe this table from Pew is the most daunting of all:

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