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Most Americans want to see the Supreme Court uphold Roe v. Wade, polling shows

Pro-choice and pro-life activists demonstrate in front of the the US Supreme Court during the 47th annual March for Life on January 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. - Activists gathered in the nation's capital for the annual event to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in 1973. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNN) — Most of the public wants to see the Roe v. Wade decision remain in place, polling on the issue finds, as the partisan divide on the issue of legalized abortion has widened in the past decade and a half.

The Supreme Court announced Monday that it would take up a case that revolves around a Mississippi abortion law and that could potentially serve as a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide prior to viability, which can occur at around 24 weeks.

Last October, four pollsters asked specifically about the Roe v. Wade decision. While the precise framing of the questions differed, all found support for upholding the decision in the 60% range, with the share who wanted to see it overturned hovering around the 25% mark:

  • Quinnipiac: 66% of likely voters said they agreed with the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, with 27% saying they disagreed.
  • Kaiser Family Foundation: 69% of adults said they did not want to see the Supreme Court overturn its Roe v. Wade decision, with 27% saying they did want it overturned.
  • ABC News/Washington Post: 62% of registered voters said the Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade, with 24% saying the Supreme Court should overturn it.
  • Fox News: 61% of registered voters said the Supreme Court should let Roe v. Wade stand, with 28% saying the Supreme Court should overturn it.

In the midst of a global pandemic, a heightened focus on race relations and a struggling economy, fewer than 1% of Americans named abortion as the nation’s most important problem, according to a Gallup poll last month. Respondents are far likelier to cite the pandemic, immigration issues, race relations or general concerns about the government, but that could potentially change if the Supreme Court’s ruling lands during the 2022 midterm elections, especially if candidates end up making it a focal point of their campaigns.

A majority — 59% — of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to one April survey by Pew Research Center, compared with 39% who say it should be illegal in most or all cases. Those top-line numbers, the poll found, haven’t changed much in recent years — surveys conducted as far back as 1995 found similar results.

What has changed is the size of the partisan divide on the issue. Abortion has become increasingly polarized over the past 15 years, in large part because of growing support for legalized abortion among Democrats. Between 2007 and 2021, according to Pew, the share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents supporting broadly legalized abortion rose 17 percentage points, to 80%, while the share of Republicans and Republican-leaners saying the same dipped by 4 points, falling to 35%.

That leaves a yawning 45-point partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans. There are also significant divides along educational and religious lines. More highly educated Americans are likely to be more supportive of legal abortion in at least most cases than those with lower levels of education. When looked at along religious lines, White evangelical Protestants are broadly opposed to legal abortion. By contrast, divides along other demographic lines such as gender, race and age look relatively modest.

Americans often hold complicated, nuanced views on abortion, meaning that the way a survey question is framed can have a significant impact on the results. Gallup polling last summer, for instance, found the public about equally split between calling themselves by the activist labels “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” Those labels, however, don’t always map neatly onto specific policy preferences. In the same survey, half said abortion should be legal “only under certain circumstances,” with 29% wanting it “legal under any circumstances” and 20% calling for it to be “illegal in all circumstances.”

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