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U.S. Support for Abortion Rights Crosses Party Lines, Survey Finds

U.S. Support for Abortion Rights Crosses Party Lines, Survey Finds

May 6, 2015 — "If you listen to party leaders, you might think that the nation is hopelessly divided on abortion," but "public opinion about women's choices during their pregnancies yields surprising points of agreement across party lines," the New York Times' "The Upshot" reports, citing a 2012 report from the American National Election Studies.

According to "The Upshot," three of the presidential candidates for 2016 -- former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) -- have adopted different positions on abortion. However, "The Upshot" reports that, according to the survey, public opinion on abortion tends to be very similar across party lines when individuals are given detailed scenarios.

"The Upshot" reports that the survey found that "very few Americans, roughly 12 percent, believed abortion should never be legal under any circumstance," including about one in five Republicans and one in 13 Democrats. Meanwhile, "nearly 60 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans said abortion should always be legal," meaning that "[t]here is more support in both parties and among independents for legal abortion in all cases than there is for a total ban," although this point also yields "the biggest partisan gulf ... a 30-point difference between Democrats and Republicans."

However, "The Upshot" notes that "this party gap might be misleading" because the survey found that people across party lines fell into agreement on abortion when survey questions "ask[ed] people about specific ... abortion decisions." For example, "overwhelming majorities (nearly 70 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats) agreed that abortion should be legal ... if staying pregnant would cause a woman to die" and a majority of respondents across party lines similarly supported abortion in cases of rape.

According to "The Upshot," it seems "as if the giant party difference in support for abortion under any and all conditions is an artifact of the way the typical abortion survey question is constructed," given that Democrats and Republicans who positioned themselves as always for or against abortion rights changed their opinions when provided specific scenarios. As a result, "[f]ocusing on the exact details of abortion decisions may reveal more about when Americans agree on this ... issue than when they disagree," "The Upshot" reports (Vavreck, "The Upshot," New York Times, 5/6).