The Republican Party platform states that “the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed,” while the Democratic equivalent supports access to “safe and legal abortion.” But support for these positions is far from universal among Americans who identify with or lean toward each party, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.
That raises the question: Who are the Republicans who support legal abortion and the Democrats who oppose it, and how else do they differ from their fellow partisans? One major difference involves religion. Republicans who favor legal abortion are far less religious than abortion opponents in the GOP, while Democrats who say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases are much more religious than Democrats who say it should be legal.
Instead of looking at the percentage of U.S. adults who support or oppose legal abortion, this analysis takes the opposite approach, examining the composition of supporters and opponents of legal abortion, including within each party. For instance, among Republicans who support legal abortion, what percentage are evangelicals, women or young people?
Pew Research Center conducted this study to take a closer look at views about abortion in the United States. This analysis takes a different approach than usual: Instead of looking at the share of adults who say abortion should be legal or illegal, it looks at the demographic and religious composition of people who support or oppose legal abortion. Results should be interpreted cautiously. For example, just because most Democrats who oppose legal abortion are not White does not mean that most Black, Hispanic or Asian Democrats oppose legal abortion. Our previously published report, “America’s Abortion Quandary,” includes data on many subgroups’ views toward abortion.
For this analysis, we surveyed 10,441 U.S. adults from March 7-13, 2022. Everyone who took part in the survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses, which gives nearly all U.S. adults a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.
Among Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party who say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, a large majority (78%) identify as conservative. But that is not the case among Republicans who support legal abortion, 53% of whom describe their political ideology as moderate or liberal. Republicans who say abortion generally should be legal also are less likely to live in the South and more likely to live in the Northeast and West – parts of the country with higher levels of support for legal abortion in general.
The religious divide on abortion is strongly apparent within the GOP. Among Republicans who generally oppose legal abortion, 62% are Protestants, including around four-in-ten (39%) who are White evangelical Protestants. And about four-in-ten Republicans who generally oppose legal abortion (39%) are highly religious, according to a scale of religious commitment based on attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer and the importance of religion in respondents’ lives. By contrast, among Republicans who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, just 35% are Protestants and a roughly equal share are religiously unaffiliated (34%); only 6% are highly religious.
There is a similar split within the Democratic Party when it comes to abortion and political ideology. Half of Democrats and Democratic leaners who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases identify as liberal, compared with 22% among Democrats who generally oppose legal abortion.
There also are differences among Democrats by race. A majority of Democrats who favor legal abortion (56%) are White, compared with 37% among Democrats who say abortion should be mostly or entirely illegal. About half of Democrats who say abortion should be mostly or entirely illegal are either Black (23%) or Hispanic (30%). (It is worth noting, however, that most Democrats in all racial/ethnic categories say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, including 86% of White Democrats, 75% of Black Democrats, 70% of Hispanic Democrats and 81% of Asian Democrats.)
Black and Hispanic Democrats tend to be more religious than White Democrats, and indeed, Democrats who oppose legal abortion are much more likely than those who support it to be highly religious and to identify as Christian (both Catholic and Protestant). Meanwhile, 43% of Democrats who favor legal abortion are religiously unaffiliated.
Among both Republicans and Democrats, people who support legal abortion skew somewhat younger than those who oppose it.
Examining the broader composition of legal abortion supporters, opponents in the U.S.
Overall, Democrats account for about two-thirds (68%) of U.S. adults who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. That figure almost perfectly mirrors the Republican share of abortion opponents – 69% of those who say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. At the same time, about one-in-four in each group buck this partisan pattern: 26% of those who favor legal abortion are Republicans, while 25% of abortion opponents are Democrats.
Those who say abortion should be legal in all cases, without exception, are considerably more likely to be Democrats than those who say it should be legal in most cases (81% vs. 62%). However, those who say abortion should be illegal in all cases are no more likely to be Republicans than those who say it should be illegal in most cases (67% vs. 69%).
A slim majority (57%) of those who say abortion should always be legal are women. At the other end of the spectrum, however, 55% of adults who say abortion should be illegal in all cases, with no exceptions, also are women.
Most supporters of legal abortion – including about two-thirds of those who say abortion should always be legal, with no exceptions – are under the age of 50. By comparison, Americans who say abortion should be mostly or entirely illegal are older, with 54% ages 50 or older.
A large majority of people who say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases are Christian, including 57% who are Protestant, 23% who are Catholic and 3% who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons. And on a scale designed to measure religious commitment based on attendance at religious services, prayer frequency and the importance of religion in one’s life, the vast majority in this group have either “high” (36%) or “medium” (56%) religious commitment; just 8% are “low” on the scale. And looking only at those who say abortion should be illegal in all cases with no exceptions, a clear majority (57%) are highly religious by this measure.
Meanwhile, nearly half of Americans who say abortion should be legal in all cases (47%) are low on the religious commitment scale, while just 4% are highly religious. About half of people at this end of the spectrum (52%) are religiously unaffiliated, including 14% who identify as atheist and 12% who are agnostic. Still, nearly four-in-ten in this group identify as Christian.
Note: Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.