By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More Americans prefer the Democratic Party's approach to abortion policy than prefer the Republican approach, and two out of five Republicans do not favor their own party's position on the issue, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found.
The survey, conducted May 16-23, showed deep misgivings among the American public as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to reveal a decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established the right to abortion access nationwide.
It's a potential bright spot for Democrats heading into the Nov. 8 midterm elections, when Republicans are broadly favored to win a majority of at least one chamber in Congress. President Joe Biden's popularity is at the lowest point of his term and concerns about the economy and surging inflation are taking a heavy toll on Democratic candidates.
Of 4,409 adult respondents in the poll, 34% said Democrats had better plans for abortion policy, compared to 26% who picked the Republican Party. The rest of respondents picked neither party or said they didn't know which was better.
Just 58% of Republicans said their own party has the better plan on abortion, compared with 71% of Democrats who sided with their party.
Years of work by Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate, and a flurry of three appointments to the Supreme Court during Republican President Donald Trump's four years in office, cemented the court's current 6-3 conservative majority. The justices are expected to dramatically scale back or overturn Roe v. Wade by the end of June, which would clear the way for a wide range of new restrictions on abortion in more than a dozen largely Republican-led states.
Suburban women, seen as potential deciders for close elections, backed Democrats over Republicans on abortion policy by 38% to 23%, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll.
Overall, 61% of respondents, including 38% of Republicans and 39% of independents, said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who supports laws that ban or severely restrict abortion.
The loss of a right that Americans have held for almost a half century could motivate voters, political strategists said.
"The name of the game in midterm elections is harnessing anger and turn it into turnout," said Jared Leopold, a strategist currently advising Democratic candidates in gubernatorial, state and local elections. "Taking away a fundamental right would be a huge issue for Democrats to run on, and a big motivator for turnout."
Some 71% of respondents, including 60% of Republicans, said they believed the decision to terminate a pregnancy should be left to a woman and her doctor, with just 15% saying it should be regulated by the government.
For Republicans, "it suggests some ambivalence about their party's ideas on abortion," said Yanna Krupnikov, a political scientist at Stony Brook University.
Krupnikov cautioned, however, against firm conclusions that curtailing abortion rights will help Democrats, with the strongest abortion rights proponents likely already being core Democratic voters.
The poll showed nuanced views on abortion, with 26% of respondents saying it should be legal in all cases, 10% that it should be illegal in all cases and more than half in between.
It also appears likely inflation will dominate voter concerns in November, overwhelming any advantage the abortion battle might confer on Democrats, said Douglas Heye, a Republican strategist and a former top aide to ex-Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Biden's approval rating sank this week in a separate Reuters/Ipsos poll to 36%, the lowest since his election, while Republicans are preferred by voters on many economic issues.
Anger over prices could work against Democrats. Only 54% of Democrats think their party has a better plan for inflation, compared to 75% of Republicans who back their own side.
"People are mad every time they drive past a gas station, and they're mad every time they go to the grocery store. And that's a daily anger, said Heye. "It's hard to see how abortion overrides that."
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 4,409 adults including 2,036 Democrats, 1,637 Republicans and 530 independents. The results have a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of between 2 and 5 percentage points.
(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Scott Malone and Rosalba O'Brien)