Abortion Issue Top Factor Urging Americans to Protest


Story Highlights

  • 39% of U.S. adults have felt the urge to organize or join a public demonstration
  • Abortion named as the top issue motivating those who have a desire to protest
  • Democrats, liberals, upper-income, college graduates most likely to protest

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nearly four in 10 Americans, 39%, say they have felt the urge to organize or join a public demonstration. This is statistically similar to the previous 36% reading in 2018 but much higher than the 10% who said the same in 1965. The reasons behind Americans’ desire to protest today are markedly different than four years ago.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision eliminating abortion as a constitutional right and returning abortion policy decisions to individual state governments, 31% of those who have expressed a desire to protest name the abortion issue as their greatest motivation to do so.

Beyond abortion, the issues now mentioned most as reasons to demonstrate are law enforcement or Black Lives Matter (22%), women’s rights (19%), civil or equal rights (11%), and government or political issues (10%).

In 2018, no single issue dominated Americans’ protest motivations, although the women’s movement led with 17% amid the “Me too” movement, similar to the percentage this year, while 6% cited abortion. Immigration, another high-ranking issue four years ago during the Trump administration’s controversial policy changes, is barely on protestors’ radar this year. Gun control, which was tied with immigration in 2018, is currently mentioned by 8% of U.S. adults.

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While some respondents are clearly answering the question in terms of issues that are upsetting them today, others are referring to situations in the near or distant past. On the whole, however, the sharp changes since 2018 indicate that recent events are more influential in people’s responses.

Gallup first asked Americans about their desire to demonstrate in 1965 amid increasing protests about civil rights and the Vietnam War — and although full results of the issues mentioned were not compiled, civil rights or racial equality was mentioned by about a third of respondents in that poll.

In 2018, the next time views were gauged on the question, protest interest had more than tripled as discontent about numerous social issues was swirling in the U.S. The latest data are from a July 5-26 poll that was conducted shortly after protests erupted around the U.S. in response to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling on June 24.

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Desire to Protest Differs Most by Political Ideology and Partisanship

There are significant differences in the urge to demonstrate among some demographic subgroups, particularly political ideology, party identification and annual household income level, with left-leaning individuals and those of higher socioeconomic status much more inclined to want to take action.

Specifically, political liberals, Democrats and upper-income adults are more than twice as likely as their conservative, Republican and lower-income counterparts, respectively, to say they have felt inclined to join a demonstration. Women and college graduates are also significantly more likely than men and non-college-educated adults to say they have felt the urge to protest.

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These demographic patterns are similar to the 2018 results for this question. In particular, in 2018, 21% of Republicans versus 51% of Democrats and 37% of independents felt motivated to demonstrate on some issue.

Abortion Greatest Driver of Protest for All Partisan Groups

Abortion ranks as the top or one of the top issues driving all partisans to protest.

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Bottom Line

While the scope of public sentiment about joining a demonstration is not significantly different from 2018, the issues driving these emotions have changed and views largely reflect the current issues of the day. For now, that means abortion has shot to the top of the list of issues motivating U.S. adults to make their opinions known.

This sharp uptick has been seen elsewhere in recent Gallup polling, as mentions of abortion as the most important problem facing the country have increased. Even before the Dobbs ruling, abortion was seen as more important to Americans’ vote this year than any other past election year, and these data show that the abortion issue is more motivating to Democrats than Republicans and independents. Whether Democrats’ intensity about the abortion issue eclipses the significant political challenges Democrats face this November remains to be seen.

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