What we know about the public’s views on abortion

What we know about the public’s attitudes toward abortion in five charts.

The author(s)

  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
  • Sarah Feldman Senior Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
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This past week was historic for the country. A draft opinion indicating that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that made abortion a constitutional right, was leaked to the press. While the justices can change their votes before a final decision is made, both the leak and the prospect of overturning Roe are significant.

Today, we zoom out and unpack America’s complicated attitudes toward abortion, how it’s changed over time (or not), and where we, as a country, stand on this issue compared to other places. For many, this is not an issue that can be reduced to a simple yes or no--nuance matters.

What we know about the public’s attitudes toward abortion in five charts below:

  1. Contextually dependent. A majority of Americans support abortion under a number of different conditions, with significant variation. If a woman’s health is seriously endangered, nearly all Americans support her right to obtain a legal abortion. But, if a woman wants one for any reason, that support falls to 54%. It's still a majority, but a much smaller one.Contextually dependent
  2. International Perspective. Relative to many other places in the world, the U.S., as a whole, tends to hold more conservative views on abortion than places like Western Europe. In many ways, America appears center-right on social issues. Forget this at your own peril.international perspective

     

  3. Growing support masks growing divides. Overall, Americans have gotten more supportive of a woman getting a legal abortion for any reason. Yet, the topline numbers mask a deeper partisan divide that has developed around the issue. Over the past 45 years, Republicans and Democrats have grown farther apart on this issue. In the late 70s, similar shares of Democrats and Republicans were more or less in agreement about abortion. Now, there is a roughly 35-point difference between the two sides. Abortion has been the canary in the coal mine for our tribal, divided world.growing support masks growing divide
  4. Partisanship driving the news of the day. Looking more closely at the numbers, many Americans favor conditionality – legal abortion, in most cases. In a poll fielded immediately after the leaked decision, two in five Democrats think abortion should be legal in all cases, while one in five Republicans hold the same view. Again, this is the story of two Americas, one red and the other blue.abortion support snap poll
  5. It’s all about politics. Some say demographics are destiny. But not so here. The only demographic that matter is partisanship, followed by some leading indicators for partisanship, like college education and geography.all about politics

For most people, abortion is not a black and white issue. The context, and the many shades of gray, matter. Right now, even keeping that nuance in mind, the defining driver of the debate is partisanship. The leaked decision and the public’s reaction to it highlights a trend we’ve seen for decades: partisanship trumps all.

The author(s)

  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
  • Sarah Feldman Senior Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs

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