The Great National Divide Is on Abortion

Despite all the "War on Women" rhetoric coming from Obama and the Democrats, the facts speak for themselves: America is divided right down the middle on the question of abortion.

Taxes, the budget, immigration reform -- these are Republican vs. Democratic issues. But abortion as an issue that transcends party, so that even independents are split down the middle.

While solid majorities from each party support their position on abortion, both parties also have a significant number of "defectors" -- about the same percentage of Democrats are pro-life as there are Republicans who are pro-choice. This is what makes abortion the true dividing line in American politics.


Americans remain divided on the abortion issue, with 47% of U.S. adults describing their views as "pro-choice" and 46% as "pro-life," continuing a pattern seen since 2010.

These results are based on Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, conducted May 8-11. Gallup's trend on this question stretches back to 1995, when Americans tilted significantly more toward the pro-choice label. The balance generally remained more in the pro-choice direction until 2009 when for the first time more Americans identified as pro-life than pro-choice. Since then, these attitudes have fluctuated some, but remain roughly split.

Americans' identification with the two abortion politics labels differs somewhat by gender and age, with women and 18- to 34-year olds tilting pro-choice, and men and Americans aged 55 and older tilting pro-life. Middle-aged adults are evenly split on the issue.

Regionally, Easterners are the most unified, with 59% calling themselves pro-choice, whereas in all other regions, no more than 50% identify with either label. However, Southerners lean toward the pro-life position (49% to 41%), while those in the Midwest and West are about evenly split.

By far the biggest differences in these views are political, with over two-thirds of Republicans calling themselves pro-life and about as many Democrats identifying as pro-choice. Independents fall squarely in the middle.

A second long-term Gallup trend, this one measuring Americans' views on the extent to which abortion should be legal, finds 50% saying abortion should be "legal only under certain circumstances," or in other words, favoring limited abortion rights. This stance has prevailed since 1975. However, a combined 49% of Americans takes a more hardline position, including 28% saying abortion should be legal in all circumstances and 21% believing it should be illegal in all circumstances.

Support for the strong anti-abortion rights position has hovered around 20% since 2011, just below the record-high 23% seen in 2009. Support for strong pro-abortion rights is a notch below the highest levels seen from 1990 to 1995 when it consistently exceeded 30%, but support is up from four to five years ago when it had dipped into the low 20s.

Of course, both sides tolerate their defectors -- they just don't give them any power or place at the national level. Many older Democrats are pro-life while many younger Republicans are pro-choice. That would seem to indicate that eventually, the pro-life faction in the Democratic Party will die off while the pro-choice position in the Republican Party will grow. But that doesn't have to be the case. Many of those young, pro-choice Republicans may change their minds at some point after they have their own families, their own children. It's a lot different advocating a position that kills a baby after you've looked your firstborn in the eyes and whispered his name.

For the foreseeable future, the issue of abortion will cleave the country, creating a divide that's going to be hard to bridge.