Abortion remains a motivator for nearly half of voters; few Americans, including only 1 in 10 Republicans, support abortion bans
WASHINGTON (October 27, 2022)—As the midterm elections near, a new national survey released today by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows a society divided between moving toward a more inclusive democracy and turning back the clock to the 1950s, as well as grave concerns about the health of our democracy.
PRRI’s comprehensive 13th annual American Values Survey, released in partnership with the Brookings Institution, examines the dissatisfied state of American public opinion regarding the direction of the country and illuminates the partisan and cultural divides on midterm election priorities, abortion, immigration, education, gender identity, and LGBTQ rights.
Consensus that America is headed in the wrong direction, but large partisan and religious divides about the future
Nearly three-quarters of Americans (74%) feel the country is going in the wrong direction, including almost all Republicans (93%) and a majority of Democrats (53%). Americans are divided, however, about whether the country’s culture and way of life has changed for the better (49%) or worse (49%) since the 1950s. Two-thirds (66%) of Republicans believe things have changed for the worse, compared to less than a third of Democrats (30%).
Additionally, nearly a third of Americans (31%) say that God intended America to be a new promised land for European Christians, including approximately half of Republicans (49%) and white evangelical Protestants (50%).
“On questions related to American identity, the parties today are worlds apart—not just politically, but culturally. They increasingly defend different histories, live in different realities, and promote two essentially incompatible views of America’s future,” says Robert P. Jones, president and founder of PRRI. “The survey shows a hardening rightward stance among Republicans, anchored by a white evangelical base, which is increasingly out of step with the values of most other Americans.”
Three in ten Americans (30%) agree that immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background, compared to 36% who agreed in 2019. However, more than half of Republicans (55%) believe this, compared with just 12% of Democrats. White evangelical Protestants stand out as the only religious group in which a majority (51%) agree that immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.
Additionally, more than two thirds of Republicans (68%) say our society as a whole has become too soft and feminine, compared to 19% of Democrats and about four in ten Americans overall (42%).
Health of democracy and economy top voter priorities in the midterm elections
Among Americans who plan to vote in this year’s midterm elections, the issues most critical to them are the health of our democracy (57%) and the increasing costs of housing (57%) and everyday expenses (57%).
However, the parties have very different ideas of what safeguarding our democracy means. Americans are roughly divided over whether the bigger threat is eligible voters being denied the right to vote or people casting votes who are not eligible to vote (49% vs. 46%). Partisans hold mirror-opposite opinions: 85% of Republicans say voter fraud is the bigger problem, while 83% of Democrats say voter disenfranchisement is the bigger problem.
One especially troubling finding is that one third of Republicans who say they are most concerned with the health of our democracy (33%) say true American patriots might have to resort to violence to set things right. By contrast, among Democrats who are most concerned with the health of democracy, only 7% say patriots may have to resort to violence.
Beyond the health of democracy, different issues are driving the vote for Republicans and Democrats. Nearly two thirds of Republicans say the cost of housing and everyday expenses (65%), immigration (63%) and crime (62%) are the issues most critical to their vote. For Democrats, it’s the health of our democracy (66%), abortion (65%) and access to guns and gun safety (63%). A majority of Democrats also cite climate change (61%) as a critical issue. Strong majorities of Black Protestants (64%) and Black Americans (62%) say racial inequality is critical, a view shared by only 19% of whites.
Notably, most Americans (64%) say they would vote for a third-party alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties, with most preferring a more moderate party. More than four in ten Americans (42%) say they would vote for a candidate from a new political party that is in the middle between Democrats and Republicans.
Americans oppose the Dobbs decision, Republican support for abortion bans drops by half
In June 2022, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had affirmed a constitutional right to abortion. Six in ten Americans (61%) oppose overturning Roe, while 35% favor it. More than eight in ten Democrats (82%) oppose the court decision, including 71% who strongly oppose it. Only 40% of Republicans oppose the decision, compared to 58% who favor it.
Majorities of all major religious groups except white evangelical Protestants (37%) oppose the decision to overturn Roe. Majorities of every race and ethnic group oppose the overturn of Roe, including 68% of Black Americans, 61% of white Americans, 57% of multiracial and other-race Americans, and 56% of Hispanic Americans.
The survey also finds that, in the wake of the leaked Supreme Court Dobbs decision and abortion bans becoming reality in states across the country, only 11% of Republicans believe abortion should be illegal in all cases, down from 21% in September 2021. Nearly four in ten Republicans (37%) say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared to 86% of Democrats and 62% of all Americans.
The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade is a significant motivator for voters this year. Nearly half of all Americans (45%) say they are very motivated to vote by the decision. Women ages 18-29 are particularly more likely than their male counterparts to say the decision has made them very motivated to vote (46% vs. 32%).
Republicans are outliers on immigration and educational curriculum
More than three quarters of Democrats (77%) support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, up six percentage points since 2013. By contrast, only four in ten Republicans (40%) support a path to citizenship, a 13-point drop since 2013. Nearly half of Republicans (48%) say all immigrants living in the United States illegally should be deported, compared with less than a third (32%) in 2013. Additionally, more than four in ten Republicans (43%) say all children of undocumented immigrants (“Dreamers”) should be identified and deported, compared with just 5% of Democrats.
Two thirds of Americans (66%) say public school teachers and librarians provide students with appropriate curricula and books that teach the good and bad of American history. A majority of Americans who most trust Fox News (60%), Republicans (54%) and white evangelical Protestants (51%) believe public school teachers and librarians are indoctrinating children with inappropriate material. Conversely, only 7% of Democrats believe this. White Americans are more than twice as likely (33%) as Black Americans (15%) to believe children are being indoctrinated with inappropriate material.
Other key findings from the 2022 American Values Survey include:
- Americans, and Republicans in particular, seem uncertain about their economic future. Less than half of Americans (42%), including 59% of Democrats but only 34% of Republicans, now say a college education is a smart investment, compared to 55% of Americans who consider it a risky gamble. Support for college as a smart investment has dropped 13 percentage points since 2016.
- More than one third or more of Americans are at least somewhat concerned about paying for basic goods (36%), utility bills (36%), medical bills (35%), and rent or mortgage (32%) over the next year.
- A large majority of Americans (64%) think Congress should pass a voting rights law to guarantee every citizen access to the ballot, while less than a third (31%) say voting rights decisions should be left to the states.
- More than half of Americans (55%) say the growing number of newcomers from other countries strengthens American society, while 40% believe it threatens traditional American customs and values. Nearly seven in ten Republicans (69%) say newcomers are a threat, compared to only 17% of Democrats. At least half of all white Christian groups view newcomers as a threat, with white evangelical Protestants the most likely (65%) to do so.
- Three quarters of Americans (76%)—including 87% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans—say there should be a mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices. A similar proportion of Americans (75%) also agree that there should be term limits for Supreme Court justices, including 86% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans.
- Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are divided over whether Donald Trump should be the party’s nominee (47% Trump vs. 52% someone else).
- By a margin of two to one, Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents would prefer someone other than President Joe Biden to be the 2024 nominee (31% Biden vs. 68% someone else).
- Most Americans (62%) believe there are only two genders—male and female. Nearly nine in ten Republicans (88%), compared to only 36% of Democrats, say there are just two genders.
- More than half of Americans (52%) support requiring transgender individuals to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth, an increase of 17 percentage points since 2016. Republicans’ embrace of restrictive bathroom policies has skyrocketed by 30 percentage points in this time frame, with nearly three quarters (74%) now supporting such policies.
- Since March 2021, the share of Americans considered to be QAnon believers increased by 5 percentage points (from 14% to 19%), and the number of QAnon rejecters dropped by 10 percentage points (from 40% to 30%). The number of QAnon doubters (those who mostly but do not completely disagree with the tenets) has risen from 46% to 52%.
The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI among a random sample of 2,523 adults (ages 18 and over) living in all 50 states in the United States and who are part of Ipsos’s Knowledge Panel. Interviews were conducted online September 1-11, 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 1.35. The survey was made possible by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, with additional support from the Ford Foundation, Stand Together Trust, and the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock.
PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy.