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Missourians Back Initiative to Restore Abortion Rights by Small Margin, Poll Finds St. Louis University/YouGov poll finds many undecided voters as ballot campaign gathers signatures

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Above image credit: Supporters sign an initiative petition in support of a ballot measure that would legalize abortion up to the point of fetal viability in Missouri. during an event on Feb. 6, 2024, in Kansas City hosted by Missourians for Constitutional Freedom. (Anna Spoerre | Missouri Independent)
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A new poll shows a plurality of Missourians support restoring abortion rights as they existed under Roe v. Wade, but a large undecided group holds the key to victory. 

The St. Louis University/YouGov Poll conducted in February found that 44% of those surveyed would vote for abortion rights after hearing the ballot language, while 37% were opposed. The support was held across income, education and racial subgroups. Almost one-fifth of voters, 19%, said they were unsure how they would vote.

Along partisan lines, Democrats showed the strongest support, at 71%, while only 24% of Republicans support the proposal.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that found federal constitutional protections for abortion. Under current Missouri law, abortions are only allowed to save the life of the mother or when “a delay will create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”

A group called Missourians for Constitutional Freedom is collecting signatures to put abortion rights on the November ballot. They must gather at least 171,000 signatures from registered voters by early May.

If the measure makes the ballot, poll director Steven Rogers said, there are enough undecided voters to sway the result. 

“Voters probably do have opinions about abortion, but they’re going to need a little bit of education about this ballot initiative,” he said.

And with Missouri unlikely to be in play for the presidential election, he said, abortion will dominate the campaign.

Campaign Preview

A sports wagering initiative campaign is also underway and the poll found 60% of those surveyed back legal betting on professional sports.

“The initiative petitions are gonna be a big aspect of (the campaign) because that’s going to affect turnout and, in fact, a lot of down ballot races,” Rogers said. 

The poll surveyed 900 likely Missouri voters between Feb. 14 and Feb. 26, with a 3.74% margin of error. Along with the major initiatives, the poll included questions tracking attitudes toward President Joe Biden, Congress, major Missouri political figures and the General Assembly.

The poll also questioned voters about their choices for governor and their views on the biggest issues confronting the state as well as current legislative debates like school choice.

Only 37% of those surveyed said they approve of the job Biden is doing, a rating similar to the findings in four previous surveys dating to July 2021. But Missourians’ views toward Congress and the General Assembly have grown decidedly more negative.

Only 14% said they approve of the job Congress is doing, the worst rating in any poll dating to October 2020 and down 8 percentage points in the past year.

The disapproval rating for Congress, 78%, is much higher than that for Biden, at 62%.

A poll worker peels off an "I Voted" sticker.
A poll worker peels off an “I Voted” sticker. (Carlos Moreno | KCUR 89.3)

“Congress has always been unpopular, but now they’re really unpopular,” Rogers said.

The legislature, while receiving higher marks with a 35% approval rating, also has its lowest rating since the poll was launched and is down 16 percentage points from a year ago.

Gov. Mike Parson, who will leave office at the end of the year due to term limits, has an approval rating of 52%, among the highest ever found by the poll. U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican seeking re-election this year, has an approval rating of 50%.

The race to succeed Parson is wide open, at least for the August primaries. Without named candidates, the poll found 52% of those surveyed will vote for the Republican candidate for governor while 38% selected the Democrat.

“It’s going to be very surprising to me if we don’t have a Republican win the governorship,” Rogers said.

When those who said they would vote Republican were asked which candidate they preferred, “not sure” was selected by almost half of those polled. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft had the largest number of committed voters, with 28%, followed by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe at 10% and state Sen. Bill Eigel at 8%.

On the Democratic side, “not sure” was selected by 66% of respondents, with House Minority Leader Crystal Quade chosen by 21% and Springfield businessman Mike Hamra chosen by 4%.

“I would not be surprised if for Ashcroft it isn’t a lot of name recognition due to himself or also his father, as compared to Mike Kehoe or Crystal Quade,” Rogers said. “I don’t think it’s settled at all.”

Other Issues

Other poll results show:

  • The top issue for Missourians is the economy, selected by 42% of respondents, with health care and infrastructure needs tied in second place at 17%.
  • Views about the economy show most are pessimistic, with more than three-quarters of those surveyed saying both state and national economic conditions are fair or poor. Among those who view the economy as good or excellent, however, more say the national economy is in good shape, 24%, than say the same about the Missouri economy. The rating of the national economy is up 5 percentage points in the past year.
  • Missourians are divided on whether race relations are improving, with 49% saying race relations are good in their community while 46% say they are not. Among whites, 53% say race relations are good while among Black Missourians, only 20% agree.

On issues under consideration by lawmakers, the most popular idea was eliminating the sales tax on groceries. Currently, shoppers do not pay the state’s 3% general revenue sales tax on food products that can be bought with federal food stamp benefits but the remaining state and local taxes can add 6% or more to grocery tabs.

Eliminating the 1.225% state sales tax on groceries was supported by 81%, eliminating local taxes on grocery sales received support from 72% of respondents. Even if the state treasury had to reimburse local governments for the revenue loss of eliminating the food taxes, 60% of those surveyed said they support it.

“There’s vast support to repeal state grocery taxes along with the local grocery tax,” Rogers said.

Voters aren’t as sold on school choice questions, but strong majorities do back measures that would give parents more options. Almost three-fifths, 56%, rate their local schools as fair or poor and almost three-fourths, 73%, say that about schools statewide, numbers that show little change from past surveys.

Nearly three in five, 59%, said they support giving parents the right to enroll their children in other public school districts. They oppose general transportation subsidies for transfering students, with 83% saying that is the responsibility of parents, but support it for students living near the poverty level who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The survey also found 50% of Missourians oppose allowing districts to opt-out by limiting transfers out of the district or and 43% oppose allowing districts to refuse transfers into their schools.

“They’re in the ballpark of what we had (in a poll) about a year and a half ago,” Rogers said. “Voters want students to be able to go to other schools, but they’re less accepting of schools being able to put limits on transferring in and transferring out or what students they accept.”

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature in Missouri for the Missouri Independent, where this story first appeared. Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

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