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As abortion looks like a key issue in 2024, voters more divided by party than ever

President Joe Biden speaks during an event in Virginia on Jan. 23, to campaign for abortion rights, a top issue for Democrats in the upcoming presidential election.
Susan Walsh
President Joe Biden speaks during an event in Virginia on Jan. 23, to campaign for abortion rights, a top issue for Democrats in the upcoming presidential election.

Democratic voters are increasingly supportive of abortion rights, and increasingly motivated by the issue, according to a new report from the Public Religion Research Institute.

The survey found that a growing number of Democrats point to abortion as a top voting issue since the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision, which allowed abortion restrictions to take effect around the country.

"So the salience of abortion as an issue is really different for Democratic voters this election cycle," PRRI CEO Melissa Deckman said. "And of course, it's a direct reflection of the political landscape and the policy landscape in the wake of Dobbs."

It also found a "growing gap" between Republicans and Democrats in their views on abortion, Deckman said.

Most of that partisan gap stems from rising support for abortion rights among Democrats over the past decade or more, while Republican views have remained largely stable, she said. In the new report, 86% of Democratic voters surveyed in 2023 expressed support for abortion rights, up from 71% of Democrats in 2010. The poll also found growing support among independent voters.

Those findings align with the results of exit polls from elections since the Dobbs decision in 2022. Since then, voters in several states have repeatedly signaled support for abortion rights, and a growing number have listed abortion as a top voting issue.

Like other surveys in the past, PRRI's poll found that abortion was a particularly motivating issue for women and younger voters ages 18 to 29, and even more markedly for younger Democrats.

Nationwide, 64% percent of voters said abortion should be always or mostly legal; 35% said it should be always or mostly illegal. In most states — including states with Republican-controlled state governments — a majority of voters support legal abortion, and very few favor total bans.

"In no state does anywhere near a majority of state residents support the banning of abortions, yet we have a policy landscape in which some states have effectively made the procedure almost impossible to access," Deckman explained.

"So the policies that are being enacted in many red-state legislatures where Republicans control majorities, are clearly out of step with what the citizens in those states would like to see," she said.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.