Abortion Has Never Been Just About Abortion
As recently as 1984, abortion was not a deeply partisan issue.
“The difference in support for the pro-choice position was a mere six percentage points,” Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, told me by email. “40 percent of Democratic identifiers were pro-life, while 39 percent were pro-choice. Among Republican identifiers, 33 percent were pro-choice, 45 percent were pro-life and 22 percent were in the middle.”
By 2020, Abramowitz continued,
73 percent of Democratic identifiers took the pro-choice position, while only 17 percent took the pro-life position, with 10 percent in the middle. Among Republicans, 60 percent took the pro-life position while 25 percent took the pro-choice position and 15 percent were in the middle. The difference in support for the pro-choice position was 48 percentage points.
This split was even wider, 59 points, among “strong partisans, the group most likely to vote in primary elections,” Abramowitz said.
Crucially, Abramowitz pointed out, opinions on abortion are also closely connected with racial attitudes:
Whites who score high on measures of racial resentment and racial grievance are far more likely to support strict limits on abortion than whites who score low on these measures. This is part of a larger picture in which racial attitudes are increasingly linked with opinions on a wide range of disparate issues including social welfare issues, gun control, immigration and even climate change. The fact that opinions on all of these issues are now closely interconnected and connected with racial attitudes is a key factor in the deep polarization within the electorate that contributes to high levels of straight ticket voting and a declining proportion of swing voters.