Survey: Republican support for total abortion bans wanes while abortion emerges as a key voting issue for Democrats
WASHINGTON (February 23, 2023) — Support for abortion rights continues to increase among the American public, according to a new survey of more than 22,000 adults conducted by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) as part of its American Values Atlas project, which contains findings for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Just under two-thirds of Americans (64%) say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, up from 55% in 2010. Meanwhile, just over a third of Americans (34%) say it should be illegal in most or all cases, down from 42% in 2010. The proportion of Americans who say abortion should be illegal in all cases also dropped by more than half — from 15% in 2010 to 7% in December 2022.
“Support for abortion has been increasing gradually for years, and this updated 50-state data makes it clear that current abortion policy in many states is considerably out of step with the opinions of a majority of Americans — across states, political party affiliations, and even most religious groups,” says Melissa Deckman, Ph.D., CEO of PRRI. “The overturn of Roe v. Wade has been galvanizing, particularly for Democrats and for younger Americans, who tend to be less religious. As abortion bans move from theoretical to reality, this will be a key issue for voters heading into the 2024 election.”
Just a third of Americans (34%) favored overturning Roe in 2022, with a plurality (44%) strongly opposed. In no state did a majority of respondents express support for the overturn of Roe. The proportion of Americans strongly opposed to the overturning of Roe increased after the June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization from nearly 4 in 10 (39%) in March to 46% in December. While the ruling did not appear to change Americans’ abortion legality views broadly, it did appear to impact levels of support for sweeping abortion bans.
Support for legal abortion extends to most red states, as Republican support for total bans declines
Support for legal abortion isn’t limited to Democratic-majority states. Majorities of Americans in 43 states and the District of Columbia say that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and in 13 states plus the District, more than 7 in 10 residents support legalization. Since PRRI last conducted a state-level analysis in 2018, residents in nearly all 50 states are more likely to say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The proportion of Republicans who say it should be illegal in all cases declined throughout 2022 from 18% in March to 14% in December.
Still, abortion remains a politically polarizing issue. More that 6 in 10 Republicans (63%) say it should be illegal in most or all cases, and less than 4 in 10 (36%) say it should be legal in all or most cases. The latter figure has grown little since 2010 (35%). Conversely, nearly 9 in 10 Democrats (86%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a number that has steadily increased since 2010 (71%).
Legal abortion supported by most Americans of faith; younger Americans trend more supportive of abortion rights than older Americans
Most Americans of faith support abortion legalization. White evangelical Protestants (27%), Jehovah’s Witnesses (27%), Latter-day Saints (32%), and Hispanic Protestants (44%) are the only major religious groups where a minority of adherents say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Throughout 2022, attitudes toward abortion remained relatively steady within most major religious groups, with two key exceptions: Hispanic Catholics and Black Protestants. Both groups grew more likely to support legal abortion in the latter half of the year after the Dobbs decision.
While around 6 in 10 Americans of all age groups (64%) say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, Americans ages 18-29 are the only age group reporting even higher support (68%). Younger Americans also tend to express a greater degree of support, with nearly 4 in 10 (38%) supporting abortion legalization in all cases, compared with less than 3 in 10 Americans ages 30-49 (29%), 50-64 (28%), and 65+ (26%).
Abortion increasingly driving voting decisions, particularly among Democrats
The PRRI American Values Atlas found that 1 in 4 Americans say they’ll only vote for a candidate who shares their views on abortion, including nearly 3 in 10 women (29%) but less than a quarter of men (22%). Candidates’ abortion stance matters more to young women in particular, with more than a third of those ages 18-29 (34%) and nearly a third of those ages 30-49 (32%) expressing this position.
Among supporters of legal abortion, Democrats are nearly three times as likely as Republicans to say they will only vote for candidates who share their abortion views. Among those who oppose abortion, the opposite is true. Three in 10 Republicans who oppose abortion say they will only vote for candidates who share their views, while fewer than a quarter of Democrats who oppose abortion (22%) say the same.
Most Americans (52%) say abortion is just one of many important factors they consider when voting.
Knowledge of state-level abortion laws grows post-Dobbs
Americans have become increasingly informed about their individual states’ abortion policies since the Dobbs leak and subsequent decision. When asked in March 2022 if, to the best of their knowledge, abortion would remain legal or become illegal in their state if Roe v. Wade was overturned, nearly half (48%) of Americans said they didn’t know what the status would be in a post-Roe world. By December 2022, that figure had dropped to 3 in 10 Americans.
Women in particular closed a knowledge gap on the issue. More than half of women (52%) initially said they were unsure whether abortion was legal or illegal in their states prior to Roe’s overturn, and by December just over 3 in 10 (31%) remained unsure. In March 2022, 44% of men said that they were unsure of abortion’s status in their states; by December, it was 29% of men.
Most Americans oppose abortion ban policies and leaving abortion policy to the states to decide; Republicans and some Christians are outliers
In addition to the survey of Americans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia conducted throughout 2022, PRRI conducted a standalone survey of more than 2,500 Americans about specific abortion policies, including whether Congress should make abortion policy, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision in June 2022.
A majority of Americans specifically oppose federal abortion bans, with just 12% saying Congress should pass a national law banning abortion and more than half (53%) saying Congress should actually pass a law preserving the right to abortion. Notably, nearly equal numbers of Republicans say Congress should ban abortion (22%) as say it should preserve a right to abortion (21%). Further, despite the Dobbs decision returning the issue of abortion rights to the states, less than a third of Americans (32%) say abortion law should be left to the states.
Survey respondents were also asked 10 questions regarding abortion access to develop a composite scale measuring to what extent they support or oppose policies that restrict or ban abortion procedures. The options included limiting the window during which abortion can be performed in a pregnancy by a given number of weeks of gestational age, restricting access to medical abortion pills, making it a felony to perform an abortion, or making it illegal to cross state lines to obtain abortion in a state where it is legal. A majority of Americans (57%) oppose such abortion ban policies, with nearly 1 in 5 (19%) strongly opposing them. White evangelical Protestants (81%) are the only religious group where an overwhelming majority supports restrictive abortion policies or bans. By comparison, less than half of Hispanic Catholics (46%) and white Catholics (43%), and fewer than 4 in 10 Black Protestants (37%) support restrictive ban policies. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (74%) support restrictive abortion ban policies, compared with less than a quarter of Democrats (23%).
Higher levels of education are correlated with decreased support for abortion ban policies. While a majority of Americans with a high school education or less support ban policies (56%), only a third of college graduates and a quarter of those with post-graduate degrees support abortion ban policies. This follows the trend seen regarding support for abortion. While majorities of Americans of all education levels believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, support is highest among those with a four-year degree (71%) and those with a post-graduate degree (75%).
The American Values Atlas survey was designed and conducted by PRRI. The survey was made possible through the generous support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, as well as Michelle Mercer and Bruce Golden. The survey was conducted among a random sample of 22,984 adults (age 18 and up) living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Among those, 20,603 are part of the Ipsos Knowledge Panel and an additional 2,381 were recruited by Ipsos using opt-in survey panels to increase the sample sizes in smaller states. Interviews were conducted online between March 11 and December 14, 2022. The margin of error for the American Values Atlas national survey is +/- 0.8 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence, including the design effect for the survey of 1.7. In addition to sampling error, surveys may also be subject to error or bias due to question wording, context, and order effects. The stand-alone June 2022 survey was designed and conducted by PRRI among a random sample of 2,038 adults (ages 18 and over) living in all 50 states in the United States and the District of Columbia and who are part of Ipsos’s Knowledge Panel. Interviews were conducted online between June 24 and 26, 2022. The margin of error for the national survey is +/- 2.3 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence, including the design effect for the survey of 1.1.
PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy.
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