Partisan gap on abortion ‘larger than ever:’ Analysis

May 2, 2024

The divide between Democrats and Republicans on abortion is at its starkest point in years, according to a new survey on the issue that’s poised to play a big role in the 2024 presidential race. 

There’s a 50-point gap between the two major parties, a figure that is “larger than ever,” according to research from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).

Over eight in 10 Democrats think abortion should be legal in most or all cases — while just around a third of Republicans say the same. 

“We’re seeing the largest partisan gap we’ve ever seen when it comes to Americans’ attitudes about abortion legality,” Melissa Deckman, the CEO of PRRI, told The Hill. 

Notably, Republicans’ views on the procedure have stayed roughly the same across the last decade or so of trend data, while Democrats’ and independents’ approval of abortion legality have been on the rise over the last few years. 

“In general, Americans’ attitudes about abortion have become more supportive of abortion legality over time than not, but Republicans have really not shifted much. But the rest of Americans have,” Deckman said. 

This stark partisan divide poses problems for both parties as abortion is pushed further into the 2024 spotlight. 

A strict six-week ban took effect on Wednesday in Florida, and the Arizona state Senate voted that same day to repeal a Civil-War era ban in the state. Organizers are also at work in several states to get measures on the ballot this fall that would enshrine reproductive rights in state constitutions. 

President Biden’s reelection bid has been battering former President Trump over abortion, blaming him for the fall of Roe v. Wade and subsequent state-level restrictions. Trump in a recent Time Magazine interview suggested states with restrictive abortion bans might monitor women’s pregnancies. 

At the same time, the research found that Republicans, though generally less supportive of abortion rights than Democrats, are not expressing widespread support for outright bans on the procedure.

Only 15 percent of Republicans in the poll said abortion should be illegal in all cases, down from around 25 percent who said the same in 2020. Just three percent of Democrats and seven percent of independents also think the procedure should be banned. 

A slight gender divide is also emerging, according to the new research. Gender has not played a big role in determining support for abortion access over the last decade or so, Deckman said, but PRRI found a four-point split between men and women in the latest numbers. 

Sixty-two percent of men in the poll said abortion should be legal in most cases, compared to 66 percent of women who said the same. 

Republican women in particular are now more likely than men of their same party to say abortion should be legal — at 39 percent to 34 percent among Republican men — while no such gender gap exists among Democrats. 

Broadly, the salience of abortion as a way to evaluate candidates is more prevalent among Democrats who support abortion rights than among Republicans who oppose it, Deckman said, “and this is a change from when Roe was still the law of the land.” 

Half of Democrats who think abortion should be legal in all or most cases say they’ll only cast their ballots for a candidate who shares their views — double the 25 percent who said the same back in 2018. 

Among those who think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, 44 percent of Republicans say they’d only vote for a candidate with shared views, compared to 34 percent in 2018.  

“This speaks to the role of abortion as being important to the bases of both parties,” Deckman said. “It’s really animating their electoral calculus.”

The survey was conducted between March 9 and December 7 of last year by PRRI among 22,465 adults living in all 50 states. The margin of error for the national survey is plus or minus 0.82 percentage points.