How IVF and abortion access could shape the 2024 election

Plus, polls on Biden and Trump job approval and college athlete unionization.

March 20, 2024, 4:54 PM

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our occasional polling column.

Americans continue to support IVF and abortion access

It's been just over a month since the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are children and jeopardized access to in vitro fertilization treatments in the state, bringing the procedure to the forefront of reproductive rights politics. President Joe Biden called on Congress to "guarantee the right to IVF" nationwide in his State of the Union address earlier this month, and Republicans have met a new challenge as they try to signal support for the procedure, during which embryos are often destroyed, while reconciling it with their long-held stance that life begins at conception.

All of this means that IVF — and the anti-abortion views that threatened it in Alabama and could spur similar threats in other states — is helping to shape the coming election season.

As a whole, most American voters are supportive of access to IVF. The vast majority of registered voters, 80 percent, think IVF should be legal, and only 6 percent think it should be illegal, according to a Civiqs/DailyKos poll taken March 9-12. (14 percent were unsure.) And most voters think reproductive health care in general should be easier to access, including 62 percent of all voters and 53 percent of Republicans who think fertility planning like IVF should be easier to access, according to a Navigator poll from Feb. 15-19. When it came to access to abortion pills and in-clinic abortions, Democrats and independents were far more likely to favor increased access, while Republicans were more likely to favor decreased access.

Overall though, since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision in June 2022, many voters have moved to the left on questions of abortion access, and the issue has risen in importance when it comes to voting decisions. Half of voters in a March tracking poll from KFF, a nonprofit focused on health policy, said they think the 2024 elections will have a "major impact" on access to abortion, and half of Democrats surveyed thought they will have a major impact on access to contraception. Twelve percent of all voters in that survey (including 17 percent of women ages 18 through 49) said abortion is the most important issue in determining their vote this year, while another 52 percent said it was "very important." A YouGov/The Economist poll from March 3-5 similarly found that 77 percent of U.S. adults said abortion was an important issue to them.

And Democrats have a clear advantage among abortion-motivated voters. Overall, voters in the KFF poll who ranked abortion as their most important issue preferred Biden over former President Donald Trump, and those who voted in 2020 chose Biden by nearly a two-to-one margin. The poll also found that 58 percent of Americans overall opposed a 16-week national abortion ban favored by some Republican groups.

Abortion access isn't just deciding votes, either — it's also helping determine how young people make other big life choices. Seventy-one percent of current and prospective college students said access to abortion was important in their enrollment decisions, and 80 percent preferred states with greater access, according to a Lumina Foundation/Gallup survey from last fall. For key groups of voters, including young voters, women and Democrats, access to reproductive health care, from abortion to IVF, may be a big motivator this fall.

—Monica Potts

Trump is more popular now than when he was president

Biden's low approval ratings have been an inescapable narrative of the 2024 election cycle, and the president's average approval rating in our tracker hit a new low of 37.4 percent on March 12. It's back up to 39.0 percent now, but Biden has been sitting just under 40 percent since November of last year.

538's tracker of President Joe Biden's approval rating.
538 photo illustration

But what about Biden's also-unpopular opponent, Trump? During his last year in office, Trump's approval ratings were underwater too, though not quite as badly as Biden's: In March 2020, his approval rating hovered in the low to mid-40s, ahead of a 46-percent peak in early April. Trump left office with around the same average approval rating as Biden's current mark, following a dip in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

But perhaps distance makes the heart grow fonder. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll earlier this month was the latest of several to find that more Americans (49 percent in this case) approve of how Trump did as president than they ever did during his presidency.

Unsurprisingly, opinions among Democrats and Republicans in this poll were polarized, but Trump enjoyed a notable job approval advantage among independent voters. That's concerning for Democrats since, according to exit polling, independents broke for Biden 54 percent to 41 percent in 2020. So while downballot Democrats haven't seemed to suffer from Biden's low approval ratings in contests since he took office, with the president back on the ballot, they'll surely be looking to remind that critical group of independent voters how they felt about Trump four years ago.

—Tia Yang

What Americans think about college athletes unionizing

Earlier this month, the men's basketball team at Dartmouth College voted to join a union, becoming the first university sports team to do so in the U.S. In an AP-NORC poll conducted the week before the vote took place, 55 percent of respondents said they did not think college athletes should be allowed to form a union, while 42 percent said they should be allowed to.

But a YouGov poll a week after the vote painted a more complicated picture. The same share of respondents, 42 percent, said that they supported allowing college athletes to unionize. But a much smaller share was opposed: just 26 percent. However, in the YouGov poll, a third of respondents said they weren't sure, whereas in the AP-NORC poll, only 1 percent said so. Differences in methodology probably explain much of the discrepancy between the polls' levels of opposition, but it's also possible that the public softened its opposition to unionization after hearing about the Dartmouth team.

The team's fight to unionize isn't over yet, though: After the vote took place, Dartmouth's Board of Trustees asked the National Labor Relations Board to nullify the results, teeing up what could be a drawn-out legal battle.

—Cooper Burton

CORRECTION (March 22, 2024, 12:15 p.m.): A previous version of this article referred to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The article has been updated to reflect the organization's new name, KFF.