A Supreme Court abortion ruling that voters will be happy about

Plus, voters' shifting priorities, Pride month and a poll about polling.

June 14, 2024, 1:40 PM

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our occasional polling column.

Thursday's mifepristone ruling will be popular

On Thursday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the Food and Drug Administration's guidelines on mifepristone, one of the drugs used in medication abortions. The decision means that women will continue to have access to the pill without an in-person doctor's appointment.

The Supreme Court has become quite unpopular in the wake of 2022's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling and a series of ethics scandals. And with Thursday's ruling, the court seemed to avoid making yet another unpopular move that could have restricted abortion access even more than Dobbs did. According to a Marquette University Law School poll from early May, 59 percent of registered voters thought the court should maintain access to the drug, while just 26 percent thought it should restrict access.

However, as with many issues, public opinion on mifepristone is nuanced, and different question wordings can yield different results. For example, when you ask whether mifepristone should simply be available at all, the drug is very popular. According to March's SCOTUSPoll, a survey of Supreme Court cases conducted by a group of academics, only 33 percent of U.S. adults thought the FDA's approval of mifepristone should be revoked entirely; a whopping 68 percent said it should not. Also in March, 68 percent of registered voters told Fox News that mifepristone should be legal, while only 28 percent said it should be illegal.

However, the crux of the Supreme Court case was more specific FDA regulations that allowed mifepristone to be prescribed via a telehealth appointment, and polling shows this may be more controversial. According to a March poll from Ipsos/Axios, only 50 percent of adults supported women obtaining the pills needed for a medication abortion through the mail; 48 percent were opposed.

So if the Supreme Court had ruled on behalf of the plaintiffs, the actual substance of the decision may not have been as unpopular as most polls suggest. On the other hand, many Americans may not have closely followed the exact parameters of the ruling and just perceived it as the Supreme Court dealing another blow to abortion rights, which are strongly popular. Of course, since they didn't end up ruling that way, we'll never know exactly how such a decision might have affected the court's popularity (or the 2024 election).

—Nathaniel Rakich

Voters are worrying less about the economy and more about democracy

According to Cygnal's latest national polling, the economy is declining as a top priority for voters heading into the 2024 election, though it remains the No. 1 issue overall. Since January 2023, the percentage of respondents naming "inflation and the economy" as their top priority for Congress to address has dropped 11 points. Illegal immigration has consistently come in second since August 2023, but after a significant surge earlier this year, has also declined over the past few months.

Meanwhile, the share of voters naming "threats to democracy" as their top priority has been steadily rising over the past year, and has ultimately gained 7 points since January of last year. It now consistently ranks third among voters' top concerns.

But while the issue ranks high in importance to voters, many are worried about it for different reasons. In focus groups on the issue that 538 conducted earlier this year, Republicans were concerned about purported election fraud while Democrats were more worried about a potential slide toward authoritarianism.

The same is true when voters talk about the economy; many who list it as their top priority are thinking about inflation, while others are more concerned with government spending and jobs being shipped overseas. So while these broader issues are both clearly top of mind for voters in 2024, be wary of extrapolating too much from the topline results when it comes to just how that will affect their votes.

—Cooper Burton

How brands can do LGBTQ+ Pride month right

We're midway through LGBTQ+ Pride month, and festivities are continuing across the country (though not without disruptions — in particular from pro-Palestine protests). And as has become par for the course, many companies are hoping to either cash in or show their support (depending on how cynical you are) with Pride-related ad campaigns and rainbow-festooned products. It's become such a cliche for brands to suddenly become ostensibly pro-LGBTQ+ during June that there's even a term for it: rainbow-washing. (It also inspired a truly iconic TikTok that helped launch actress Meg Stalter's career.) But recent polling shows this kind of shallow engagement may not be doing these brands any favors, and the most effective way to show support for the LGBTQ+ community would be to commit to real action throughout the year.

In a SurveyMonkey poll from May, 64 percent of respondents who identified as LGBTQ+ or an ally said they believe most of the Pride month efforts from companies are "performative gestures rather than a meaningful commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion," and a majority said that companies launching limited-edition, Pride-themed merchandise or services or temporarily updating their logos were primarily an effort to profit off Pride, rather than a social good. Nearly a third (29 percent) said rainbow-washing was the worst mistake a company can make in celebrating Pride.

In another May survey from Big Village, LBGTQ+ respondents were asked whether certain acts by corporations felt "authentic." Fewer than a third of respondents thought things like ad messaging and social media campaigns were authentic, though a majority said that supporting additional LGBTQ+ initiatives throughout the year and donating to LGBTQ+ causes and organizations did feel authentic. And in light of some companies backing off their messaging in the face of public backlash against Pride-related campaigns, a majority also said it would feel authentic if a brand stood by their campaigns.

Of course, this is just a snapshot of opinions on a complicated issue, but if corporations are hoping to actually appeal to LGBTQ+ consumers, polls suggest they might want to go further than switching to a rainbow logo for a month.

—Kaleigh Rogers

People mostly trust the polls, according to the polls

Polls can tell us so much about what Americans think — including what they think about polls themselves.

According to a May 22-24 poll from Verasight, 35 percent of U.S. adults believed that public-opinion surveys were extremely or very accurate, while 57 percent believed they were somewhat accurate. Only 9 percent thought they were not very or not at all accurate. Similarly, 33 percent of adults believed public-opinion surveys were extremely or very trustworthy, 58 percent thought they were somewhat trustworthy and 9 percent thought they were not very or not at all trustworthy.

Honestly, we at 538 — who have made it our mission to get people to properly understand polls — are thrilled with this! To hear this survey tell it, very few Americans distrust the polls completely, and a majority seem to have the right attitude about them: Polls are useful, mostly reliable tools, but they can never be perfectly accurate.

Of course, there's a big (and pretty meta) question mark here: Can you trust a poll to tell you what Americans think about polls? It stands to reason that most people who disbelieve polls wouldn't respond to one, so we wouldn't be surprised if this underestimates the share of Americans who don't think polls are accurate or trustworthy. By how much, though, is difficult to say.

—Nathaniel Rakich