October 17, 2018

Nearly six-in-ten Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases

Abortion has long been a contentious issue in the U.S., and it is one that sharply divides Americans along partisan, ideological and religious lines.

Public views of abortion: 1995-2018Today, a 58% majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37% think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. These views are relatively unchanged in the past few years. The latest Pew Research Center political survey finds deep disagreement between – and within – the parties over abortion. In fact, the partisan divide on abortion is far wider than it was two decades ago.

Explore an interactive look at attitudes on abortion.

By a wide margin (59% to 36%), 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 shifted in the other direction over the past two decades. Today, 76% of Democrats say abortion should be legal in at least most cases. In 1995, 64% favored legal abortion in all or most cases.

Wide ideological gaps in both parties in views of abortionThere are ideological differences within both parties over abortion, though this divide is starker within the GOP. Among Republicans, 58% of the party’s moderates and liberals say abortion should legal in all or most cases, compared with just 29% of conservative Republicans.

While wide majorities of both liberal and conservative and moderate Democrats say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, liberal Democrats are 16 percentage points more likely than conservative and moderates to say this (84% vs. 68%).

Support for abortion also varies by race, education and religious affiliation.

Similar majorities of whites (61%) and blacks (60%) say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Hispanics, however, are divided: (49%) support legal abortion while 44% say it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Support for legal abortion is more common among those with higher levels of education. Those with postgraduate (77%) and bachelor’s (69%) degrees are more likely than those with less education to support legal abortion in most or all cases. Adults with no more than a high school education have mixed views on the issue — while about half (48%) say abortion should be legal in at least most cases, roughly as many 47% say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

White evangelical Protestants continue to be opposed to abortion in all or most cases, with 61% saying it should be illegal in all or most cases, while 34% say it should be legal in at least most cases. The share of white evangelicals who say it should be illegal in all or most cases has dipped slightly since last year (from 70% in June 2017).

No gender gap in views on whether abortion should be legalBy contrast, the religious “nones” – those who are religiously unaffiliated – overwhelmingly support legal abortion. Roughly three-quarters (74%) say it should be legal in all or most cases, while just 21% say it should be illegal. A large majority of white mainline Protestants (67%) also say abortion should be legal.

Among the public overall, there are no significant gender differences in views of whether abortion should be legal: 57% of men and 60% of women say it should be legal in most or all cases. Within both parties, the views of men and women are largely aligned:  78% of Democratic women and 73% of Democratic men say abortion should be legal in all or most cases; similarly, 42% of Republican men and 34% of Republican women say the same.

Note: This is an update of a post by Hannah Fingerhut, a former research analyst at the Center, originally published July 17, 2017.

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

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