I’m not sure why Pew phrased this as “completely overturned” rather than simply “overturned.” Are there Americans out there who want Roe partly overturned, i.e. abortion remains legal but the Court creates a new standard for each trimester? One’s views on Roe tend to be all-or-nothing.
Sixty-nine percent isn’t dramatically higher than previous Pew polls but it is a bit higher. The previous high-water mark, in 2013, saw 63 percent opposed to completely overturning the decision. There’s an obvious explanation for the increase: It’s a backlash from abortion fencesitters to the fact that America just handed total control of government to the GOP. A few weeks ago I noted that pro-life sentiment spiked in 2009, not coincidentally after Democrats had just taken over total control of the government. The greater the chances that a new administration might have the intent and the legislative means to make significant changes to abortion laws, the more it appears that people who are ambivalent on the issue tend to bend the other way, in hopes of preserving the status quo. Not surprisingly, that’s what Pew’s new data shows too. Democratic opposition to overturning Roe is up nine points since 2013, from 75 percent to 84 percent, while Republican opposition to overturning it (although still at majority levels, at 53 percent) is basically unchanged. Some Democrats who were unsure about getting rid of Roe with Obama in office are no longer so open-minded now that Trump and the GOP are taking power. Go figure.
But there’s more to it than that. Note the long-term partisan trend lines:
Democratic opposition is up sharply since 2013 … but it was also up between 1992 and 2013. Republican opposition has been almost totally flat. It’s not just Democratic politicians, in other words, who’ve become far more dogmatic about abortion rights over the past 25 years; it’s the entire party, and you’re seeing hard evidence of it here. Relatedly, there’s practically no gap on the left over abortion between self-identified “liberal” Democrats and “moderate” or “conservative” ones. Fully 87 percent of “liberals” oppose completely overturning Roe versus 82 percent of “moderate” and “conservative” Dems. For all the media heavy-breathing over supposed right-wing radicalism on abortion, Democrats are the more doctrinaire party.
The question is, is this leftward shift specific to abortion or is it part of a broader shift among Democrats towards the party’s left flank? New numbers today from Gallup on how Democrats identify politically:
Follow the link to Gallup and you’ll see that literally every Democratic demographic tested is more likely to call itself liberal now than it was in 2001. Surely to some degree that’s a case of lefties getting more comfortable with the “liberal” label rather than shifting on actual policy. The L-word became sufficiently toxic during the age of Reagan that Democratic pols would present themselves as “moderates” or “pragmatists” to avoid it. (Obama did that to some degree in 2008, in fact.) As that generation was replaced by younger generations who came of age when “liberal” was less stigmatized, though, the word has regained respectability. Yesterday’s “pragmatic” environmentalist, say, is today’s “liberal” even if the policies haven’t changed.
As the Pew numbers on abortion show, though, there has been some change on actual policy too. If you didn’t have this data to prove it, you’d have the fact that a self-proclaimed socialist nearly upset Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary last year. The left is getting comfortable with more radical versions of its own agenda, which was also true of the right until, er, we elected a big-government Republican who wants to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure. The GOP has suddenly gotten more heterodox, thanks to Trump, while the story of the left over the next four years might be a tea-party-ish push towards maximalist interpretations of its own ideology. We’ll see how the media does fitting that reality into the “Republicans are the true radicals” narrative.