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the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade
decision approaches, the public remains opposed to completely overturning the
historic ruling on abortion. More than six-in-ten (63%) say they would not like
to see the court completely overturn the Roe v. Wade
decision, which established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion at least
in the first three months of pregnancy. Only about three-in-ten (29%) would
like to see the ruling overturned. These opinions are little changed from
surveys conducted 10 and 20 years ago.
after the Supreme Court rendered its decision, on Jan. 22, 1973, most Americans
(62%) know that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion rather
than school desegregation or some other issue. But the rest either guess
incorrectly (17%) or do not know what the case was about (20%). And there are
substantial age differences in awareness: Among those ages 50 to 64, 74% know
that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion, the
highest percentage of any age group. Among those younger than 30, just 44% know
latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Jan. 9-13 among
1,502 adults, finds that abortion is viewed as a less important issue than in
the past. Currently, 53% say abortion “is not that important compared to other
issues,” up from 48% in 2009 and 32% in 2006. The percentage viewing abortion
as a “critical issue facing the country” fell from 28% in 2006 to 15% in 2009
and now stands at 18%.
the public continues to be divided over whether it is morally acceptable to
have an abortion. Nearly half (47%) say it is morally wrong to have an abortion,
while just 13% find this morally acceptable; 27% say this is not a moral issue
and 9% volunteer that it depends on the situation. These opinions have changed
little since 2006.
Partisan Differences over Roe
continue to be substantial religious and partisan differences over whether to
overturn Roe v. Wade, and over the broader
question of whether abortion should be legal or illegal in all or most cases. (For more on attitudes toward abortion, see Public Opinion on Abortion slideshow.)
evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group in which a majority
(54%) favors completely overturning the Roe v. Wade
decision. Large percentages of white mainline Protestants (76%), black
Protestants (65%) and white Catholics (63%) say the ruling should not be
overturned. Fully 82% of the religiously unaffiliated oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
of Americans who attend religious services at least weekly favor completely
overturning the Roe v. Wade decision, compared
with just 17% of those who attend less often.
are evenly divided over whether the ruling should be overturned: 46% say it
should, while 48% say it should not. By wide margins, Democrats (74% to 20%) and
independents (64% to 28%) oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
is no gender gap in opinions about Roe v. Wade:
Nearly identical percentages of women (64%) and men (63%) oppose reversing the
Age and Awareness
of Roe v. Wade
six-in-ten Americans (62%) know that Roe v. Wade
dealt with the issue of abortion. Much smaller percentages incorrectly
associate the decision with school desegregation (7%), the death penalty (5%)
or environmental protection (5%); 20% do not know.
those younger than 30, just 44% know that the case was about abortion; 16% say
it dealt with school desegregation, and 41% either say it dealt with another
issue (the death penalty or the environment), or do not know. Majorities of
older age groups know that Roe v. Wade
dealt with abortion.
also are educational differences in awareness of which issue Roe v. Wade addressed. Fully 91% of those with post-graduate
education know it dealt with abortion, as do 79% of college graduates, 63% of
those with only some college experience and 47% of those with no more than a
high school education.
percentages of women and men (62% each) are aware that Roe dealt
with abortion. Nearly seven-in-ten Republicans (68%) answered this question
correctly, compared with 63% of independents and 57% of Democrats.
Views of Abortion’s
more than half of adults (53%) say that abortion is not that important compared
with other issues. About a quarter (27%) say abortion is one among many
important issues facing the country, while 18% view abortion as a critical
who would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned
are particularly inclined to view abortion as a critical issue facing the
country. Nearly four-in-ten (38%) of those who support overturning the abortion
ruling say abortion is a critical issue, compared with just 9% of those who
oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
Among those who favor retaining Roe, 68% say
abortion is not that important compared with other issues.
three-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (29%) view the issue of abortion as
critical, compared with just 13% of white mainline Protestants and white
Catholics. Majorities of white mainline Protestants (61%) and white Catholics (59%)
say abortion is not that important compared with other issues. An even higher
percentage of religiously unaffiliated Americans (71%) say abortion is
relatively unimportant. (For data on the breakdown by frequency of religious service attendance, see the graphic, How Important is the Abortion Issue?)
half of Americans (47%) say they personally believe that it is morally wrong to
have an abortion, compared with 27% who say it is not a moral issue, 13% who
find it morally acceptable and 9% who volunteer that it depends. These opinions
have changed only modestly in recent years.
are deep differences among religious groups, as well as a wide partisan gap, in
opinions about the moral acceptability of having an abortion.
white evangelical Protestants (73%), as well as 55% of white Catholics and 53%
of black Protestants, say it is morally wrong to have an abortion. That
compares with 36% of white mainline Protestants and just 20% of the religiously
majority of Republicans (63%) view having an abortion as morally wrong, compared
with 45% of independents and 39% of Democrats.
small percentages of people in all religious, partisan and demographic groups
say it is morally acceptable to have an abortion. However, nearly half of
Democrats say either that having an abortion is morally acceptable (17%) or
that it is not a moral issue (31%). Among independents, roughly four-in-ten say
it is either morally acceptable (12%) or that abortion is not a moral issue (30%).
who favor overturning Roe v. Wade
overwhelmingly say it is morally wrong to have an abortion; fully 85% express
this view. Opinions about the morality of abortion are more divided among those
who oppose overturning Roe. Nearly
four-in-ten (38%) say abortion is not a moral issue, while 29% say having an
abortion is morally wrong; just 17% of those who favor retaining Roe view abortion as morally acceptable.
nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) say they personally believe that abortion is
morally unacceptable, yet also oppose the Supreme Court overturning its Roe v. Wade ruling. (For more on how opinion breaks down on the morality of abortion and whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned, see the graphic, Public Opinion on Abortion and Roe v. Wade.)
Views of the Parties
survey finds that 41% say that the Democratic Party can do a better job of
representing their views on abortion; nearly as many (36%) say the Republican
Party could do better.
March, the Democratic Party held a 16-point advantage as better representing
people’s views on abortion (47% to 31%). In October 2011, the Democrats led by
eight points on this issue (44% to 36%).
About the Survey
The analysis in this report is based on telephone interviews
conducted January 9-13, 2013 among a national sample of 1,502 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all
50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (752 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 750
were interviewed on a cell phone, including 369 who had no landline telephone).
The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the
direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A combination
of landline and cell phone random digit dial samples were used; both samples
were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English
and Spanish. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly
asking for the youngest adult male or female who is now at home. Interviews in
the cell sample were conducted with the person who answered the phone, if that
person was an adult 18 years of age or older.
The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an
iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin
and nativity and region to parameters from the 2011 Census Bureau's American
Community Survey and population density to parameters from the Decennial
Census. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone
status and relative usage of landline and cell phones (for those with both),
based on extrapolations from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. The
weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both
landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being included in the
combined sample and adjusts for household size among respondents with a
landline phone. Sampling errors and statistical tests of significance take into
account the effect of weighting. The following table shows the sample sizes and
the error attributable to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of
confidence for different groups in the survey:
Sample sizes and sampling
errors for other subgroups are available upon request.
addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and
practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into
the findings of opinion polls.
Research Center, 2013
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