July 7, 2017

On abortion, persistent divides between – and within – the two parties

Abortion has long been a contentious issue in American politics and one that splits deeply along partisan, ideological and religious lines. Today, a 57% majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 40% think it should be illegal in all or most cases. These views are little changed from a year ago, though the share saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases is now higher than it was in the fall of 2015, when Congress battled over funding for Planned Parenthood (51% legal, 43% illegal).

The latest Pew Research Center political survey finds deep disagreement between – and within – the parties over abortion. In fact, the partisan divide on abortion remains far more polarized than it was two decades ago.

Explore an interactive look at attitudes on abortion.

By a wide margin (65% to 34%), Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. In 1995, Republicans were evenly divided (49% legal vs. 48% illegal).

Views among Democrats have shown less change over the past two decades. Today, 75% of Democrats say abortion should be legal in at least most cases; in 1995, 64% favored legal abortion in all or most cases.

Within both parties, there are ideological differences over abortion. Liberal Democrats are 30 percentage points more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to favor legal abortion (91% vs. 61%).

Among Republicans, 54% of the party’s moderates and liberals say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with just 27% of conservative Republicans.

Support for abortion varies by age, education and religious affiliation. Younger adults are slightly more likely to support legal abortion in all or most cases. About six-in-ten (61%) of those younger than 50, including 65% of those ages 18 to 29, say abortion should be legal in at least most cases. Just 33% of those under 30 say they are opposed.

Support for legal abortion also is more common among those with higher levels of education. Those with postgraduate (75%) and bachelor’s (65%) degrees are more likely than those with less education to support legal abortion in at least most cases. Adults with no more than a high school education have mixed views on the issue: While half (49%) say abortion should be legal in at least most cases, 48% say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

Among white evangelical Protestants, there continues to be staunch opposition to abortion in all or most cases. Seven-in-ten (70%) say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, while just 29% say it should be legal.

By contrast, the religious “nones” – those who are religiously unaffiliated – show broad support for legal abortion in all or most cases. Eight-in-ten are in favor, while just 17% are opposed. And by more than two-to-one, more white mainline Protestants say abortion should be legal in all or most cases than say it should be illegal (67% vs. 30%).

Among the public overall, there are no significant gender differences in views of whether abortion should be legal. Majorities of both men (55%) and women (59%) say it should be legal in at least most cases. And there are only modest racial and ethnic differences, with whites (58%) and blacks (62%) somewhat more likely than Hispanics (50%) to say abortion to should be legal in all or most cases.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published April 8, 2016. See full topline results and methodology (PDF). 

Topics: U.S. Political Parties, Political Attitudes and Values, Religion and U.S. Politics, Abortion

  1. Photo of Hannah Fingerhut

    is a research analyst focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.