Majority of Adults in Favor of the Law Legalizing Abortion

NEW YORK, N.Y. – The Harris Poll has been measuring attitudes toward the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion for many years. With the election of President Trump, The Harris Poll reprised its research to see where Americans stand on the issue today. By a 53% to 30% majority, adults today are in favor of the long-standing decision.  In 2009, the last time the topic was surveyed, adults also favored the law, 51% to 44%. The recent survey also finds that nearly half of adults (47%) feel this decision should be made by the federal government rather than left to the individual states.

In addition to surveying adults, a separate sample of teenagers aged 13-17 were also asked to weigh in on this issue, resulting in very similar opinions compared to the adults. By 47% to 30%, teens also favor the Roe v. Wade decision and they too believe that the decision should be decided at the federal level (42% to 26%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,319 U.S. adults ages 18+ and 512 U.S. teens ages 13-17 surveyed online between January 24 and February 3, 2017.

Demographic divides

Not everyone has an equal standing on this critical social issue, however. While a clear majority of Democrats favor Roe v. Wade (65% with 21% opposing), Republicans are nearly split on the issue (40% favor, 46% oppose). Independents fall closer to Democrats’ point of view on this issue (56% favor, 24% oppose). Further, half of Conservatives (50% to 34%) oppose the Supreme Court decision.  This is the opposite of Liberals (74% favor, 13% oppose) and Moderates (56% favor, 25% oppose), who clearly favor the decision.

As to whether this issue should be decided at the federal or the state level, Republicans and Conservatives are more evenly split.  Around 4 in 10 of each say that it should be a federal decision (41% Republicans, 39% Conservatives), while nearly the same percentage say that it should be a state decision (37%, 39%). Democrats and Independents again prove more decisive, with around half each believing the topic should be a federal decision (53% Democrats, 48% Independents). Liberals feel the strongest on this point, with nearly 6 in 10 saying it is a federal matter.

According to David Krane, client director at The Harris Poll, “These results suggest that, when this issue surfaces perhaps during confirmation hearings of future Supreme Court justices, the American public is not fully supportive of overturning Roe v. Wade. However, it is also worth noting that about one in six adults and a higher one quarter of teenagers are not sure on these issues, suggesting a certain level of fluidity in the view as to whether to preserve the Roe v. Wade decision and whether this issue should be decided at the federal or the state level.”




This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between January 24 and February 3, 2017 among 2,319 adults (aged 18 and over) and 512 U.S. teens ages 13-17. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Note: Prior to 2017, this survey was conducted by telephone.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

The Harris Poll® #12, March 29, 2017

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll