About six-in-ten Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases

Public views of abortion, 1995-2021

Abortion has long been a contentious issue in the United States, and it is one that sharply divides Americans along partisan, ideological and religious lines.

Today, a 59% majority of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 39% think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. These views are relatively unchanged in the past few years. The latest Pew Research Center survey, conducted April 5 to 11, finds deep disagreement between – and within – the parties over abortion. In fact, the partisan divide on abortion is far wider than it was two decades ago.

Explore an interactive look at attitudes on abortion.

Pew Research Center conducted this study to better understand Americans’ views on abortion. For this analysis, we surveyed 5,109 U.S. adults in April 2021. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

In the latest survey, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are 45 percentage points more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say abortion should be legal in all or most cases (80% vs. 35%). This gap is little changed over the last few years, but the current divide is wider than it was in the past. For instance, as recently as 2016, there was a 33-point gap between the shares of Democrats (72%) and Republicans (39%) who supported legal abortion in all or most cases.

Partisan gap in views of whether abortion should be legal remains wide

This wider gap is mostly attributable to a steady increase in support for legal abortion among Democrats. In 2007, roughly two-thirds of Democrats and Democratic leaners (63%) said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Support among Democrats has risen by nearly 20 points since then, and 80% now say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Views among Republicans have remained relatively steady during this period. In 2007, around four-in-ten Republicans (39%) said abortion should be legal in all or most cases; today, 35% say this.

Wide ideological gaps in both parties in views of abortion

There are ideological differences within both parties over abortion, though the divide is starker within the GOP. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 59% of moderates and liberals say abortion should legal in all or most cases, compared with just 22% of conservative Republicans.

While liberal Democrats are 17 percentage points more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, wide majorities of both groups (89% and 72%, respectively) say this.

Support for legal abortion varies by race and ethnicity, education and religious affiliation.

Modest gender gap in views of whether abortion should be legal

Majorities of adults across racial and ethnic groups say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. White adults and Hispanic adults, however, are slightly less likely to say this than Black and Asian adults. Nearly six-in-ten White (57%) and Hispanic adults (58%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with larger majorities of Black (67%) and Asian (68%) adults.

Support for legal abortion is greater among those with higher levels of education. Those with postgraduate (71%) and bachelor’s (65%) degrees are more likely than those with less education to support legal abortion in at least most cases. Adults with no more than a high school education are divided on the issue: Half say abortion should be legal in at least most cases, while 47% say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

White evangelical Protestants continue to be opposed to abortion in all or most cases. Around three-quarters of White evangelicals (77%) say it should be illegal in all or most cases, while 21% say it should be legal in at least most cases. In contrast, a majority of White Protestants who are not evangelical (63%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.  

Religious “nones” – those who are religiously unaffiliated – overwhelmingly support legal abortion. Around eight-in-ten (82%) say it should be legal in all or most cases, while just 16% say it should be illegal.

Among the public overall, there is a modest gender divide in views of whether abortion should be legal: 56% of men and 62% of women say it should be legal in at least most cases. Within both parties, the views of men and women are largely aligned: 80% of Democratic women and 79% of Democratic men say abortion should be legal in all or most cases; similarly, 32% of Republican men and 39% of Republican women say the same.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published July 17, 2017.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Hannah Hartig  is a research associate focusing on U.S. politics and policy research at Pew Research Center.

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