October 1, 2009

Support for Abortion Slips

Finding a Middle Ground on the Issue; Obama and Abortion

Abortion Foes Less Amenable to Compromise

Most Want Middle Ground on Abortion

Though support for legal abortion has slipped and sizeable numbers of the public lack respect for opposing views on abortion, most Americans remain committed to the idea that the nation should find a way to compromise on abortion issues. Six-in-ten say the country needs to find a middle ground on abortion, down slightly since 2006 when 66% expressed this view. Roughly three-in-ten (29%) say there is no room for compromise on the abortion issue, the same proportion as three years ago.

Supporters of legal abortion are especially likely to say the country needs to find a middle ground (72%), while those who say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases are more divided on the issue, with 48% advocating a middle ground and 44% saying there is no room for compromise.

Groups traditionally opposed to legal abortion are also most wary of the idea of compromise. Among conservative Republicans, a 48% plurality says there is no room for compromise, with 44% saying the nation should find a middle ground. By contrast, a strong majority of moderate or liberal Republicans (71%) say the country should find a middle ground, while 20% say there is no room for compromise. In this regard, they resemble liberal Democrats, among whom 71% support finding middle ground.

Similarly, white evangelical Protestants – especially those who attend church on a weekly basis – stand out for saying there is no room for compromise on abortion (59% for weekly attenders vs. 49% of white evangelicals overall). Majorities of other religious groups, however, favor seeking a middle ground on abortion, including white mainline Protestants (68%) and Catholics (67%). Among these groups, regular attendance at church services is also related to less support for a middle ground; but even among weekly attenders in these groups, majorities still favor finding a middle ground.

Support for Middle Ground Drops Among Conservative Republicans

The decline over time on support for a middle ground also reflects these divisions. Support for finding a middle ground is down 12 points among conservative Republicans, while liberal Democrats have not changed their views on this question.

Among white evangelical Protestants, support for finding a middle ground on abortion has declined from 61% in 2006 to 40% today, a drop of 21 percentage points. Catholics are just as supportive of seeking a middle ground today as in 2006 (67% now vs. 63% in 2006).

Among those who attend religious services at least weekly, support for finding a middle ground has dropped 12 percentage points since 2006 (from 60% to 48%). By contrast, among those who attend services less often, opinion on this question has been more stable.

Obama and the Abortion Issue

Most Know Obama Supports Abortion Rights, Fewer Think He Favors Reducing Abortion

Nearly six-in-ten Americans (58%) correctly describe Obama’s position on abortion as pro-choice, while a sizeable minority either believe he is pro-life (14%) or say they don’t know the president’s position (28%). Nearly four-in-ten (38%) say that Obama thinks it would be good to reduce the number of abortions, while 44% say they do not know if Obama thinks it would be good to reduce the number of abortions and 19% say he does not think it would be good to reduce abortions.

More Republicans (71%) than Democrats (54%) or independents (58%) know that Obama is pro-choice. However, on the question of whether or not Obama wants to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S., more Democrats than Republicans say he believes this is a good thing (46% vs. 27%, respectively). Among both groups, as many as four-in-ten say they do not know what Obama thinks about reducing the number of abortions.

Obama's Abortion Views?

Majorities of all age groups know that Obama is pro-choice, although older Americans (those age 65 and older) are slightly less knowledgeable than those age 30-64. People under age 30 are significantly more likely than those over age 50 to say that Obama favors reducing the number of abortions: 51% of those under age 30 say this, compared with 29% of those age 50 and older.

Among religious groups, roughly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants (69%) and white Catholics (65%) know that Obama is pro-choice, compared with 58% of white mainline Protestants and 53% of the religiously unaffiliated. On the question of whether or not Obama wants to reduce the number of abortions in this country, roughly half of the religiously unaffiliated (47%) say that Obama favors reducing the number of abortions, while white evangelicals are much more skeptical (29% say he holds this view).

Among people who know that Obama is pro-choice, a plurality (29% of the public overall) think that he will handle the issue about right. About one-in-five (19%) worry that Obama will go too far in supporting abortion rights, while very few (4%) worry that he will not go far enough in supporting abortion rights.

Concern on the Right Over Obama's Support for Abortion Rights

There are stark differences of opinion along political and ideological lines as to how Obama will handle the issue of abortion as president. A majority of conservative Republicans (52%) say that Obama will go too far in supporting abortion rights, while just 10% think he will handle the issue about right. By contrast, a majority of liberal Democrats (55%) think he will handle the issue about right and just 4% say he will go too far. The views of independents mirror those of the public overall; three-in-ten independents (29%) think that Obama will strike the right balance and 18% think he will go too far in supporting abortion rights.

Not unexpectedly, those who believe that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases are more worried that Obama may go too far in supporting abortion rights than are Americans who believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases. One-third of abortion opponents (34%) worry that Obama will go too far in supporting abortion rights, while a plurality of supporters of legal abortion (45%) say Obama will handle the issue about right.

Among religious groups, white evangelicals are more concerned that Obama will take abortion rights too far than are other groups. Four-in-ten white evangelicals say that Obama will overreach on abortion rights, while just 19% of Catholics and 14% of white mainline Protestants agree.