For Republicans, abortion attitudes differ depending on the composition of their social circle

October 7, 2020 Daniel A. Cox, Samantha Goldstein

Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and her expressed opposition to legal abortion, has re-ignited the debate on abortion rights in the US. However, public opinion on abortion has stayed rather stable over the past decades.

An August survey by the Survey Center on American Life shows a majority (59 percent) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 40 percent who say it should be illegal. Importantly, more than six in 10 (63 percent) Americans express a nuanced position on the issue — that abortion should be available, but subject to some limitations.

In the report, Democrats express greater support for keeping abortion legal than Republicans voiced opposition. Two-thirds (67 percent) of Republicans say abortion should be illegal at least in most cases, while nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) of Democrats say it should be legal. Notably, only 20 percent of Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all cases. Democrats are about twice as likely to say abortion should be legal in all circumstances.

Although abortion attitudes are highly polarized between the two parties and the issue remains contentious, among Republicans, views vary depending on their political networks. Republicans whose close social connections include only Trump supporters express greater opposition to abortion than Republicans with diverse political networks. Three-quarters of Republicans whose social network includes only those with similar political backgrounds say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Approximately six in 10 (61 percent) Republicans who have politically diverse networks say abortion should be illegal.

Notably, views among Democrats do not differ on the issue regardless of the politics of their immediate social circle. Seventy-one percent of Democrats with a diverse social network say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 72 percent of those with uniform political networks say the same.

Abortion is one of the biggest litmus tests in partisan politics. But despite the growing partisan divisions on the issue, attitudes are not quite as polarized as they first appear. A minority of Republicans and Democrats adopt the most extreme positions on abortion. And, at least for Republicans, their views are not completely insulated from the people closest to them. 

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