Americans remain generally supportive of abortion rights, according to a new study that involved an extraordinarily large sample of 40,292 interviews: No more than a quarter of residents in any state supports a total ban despite the increasing political divide on the issue.

The Public Religion Research Institute survey released Tuesday measured abortion attitudes throughout 2018, allowing it to produce nuanced results for individual states and for very small demographic groups.

It found that Americans remain generally supportive of abortion rights, with 54 percent saying it should be legal in all or most cases and 40 percent saying it should be illegal. These numbers are nearly the same as a similar 2014 survey when 55 percent of Americans said abortion should be legal.

States with the largest proportion of residents who say abortion should be illegal in all cases include Louisiana at 23 percent; Mississippi at 22 percent; and Arkansas, Nebraska, Tennessee at 21 percent. Many of these states have moved to restrict abortion in recent months through legislation, administrative measures, and the courts.

Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, for example, are among the six states that passed “heartbeat” bills earlier this year that ban abortions at around six weeks of pregnancy.

A partisan divide

The PRRI survey underscores how partisan the abortion discussion has become.

The divergence between Democrats who support abortion rights and Republicans who don’t has grown from 28 to 36 points in the four years since the organization conducted a similar survey.

About one-fifth of Americans said a political candidate’s abortion stance can be a dealbreaker if it is out of line with their own views.

While PRRI has not regularly asked about abortion being a litmus test voting issue, Gallup has asked the same question, including this past May. That polling organization found 29 percent of adults saying they would vote only for a candidate who shares their views on abortion, up from 20 percent in 2016 and from 16 percent in 2007.

Democrats and Republicans surveyed were more likely than independents to say they would vote only for a candidate who shares their views. Among Democrats, 25 percent who believe abortion should be legal said they would vote only for a candidate who shares those views. Among Republicans, 34 percent who think abortion should be illegal would vote only for a candidate who shares their view.

How abortion and antiabortion groups responded

Abortion rights groups seized on the numbers to argue that a majority of Americans support their efforts.

“Antiabortion politicians are clearly out of touch with what the public wants, and it will cost them their jobs in 2020,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, called on elected officials in states that have recently passed antiabortion policies to “hear their constituents speaking through this data.”

But Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins said it is “not surprising” that after “hearing only one side of the abortion debate most of the time, some people don’t understand that abortion doesn’t solve problems.”

“For more than 50 years, the abortion lobby has effectively shut down any real discussion of abortion,” she added. Students for Life and other organizations that oppose abortion are launching new efforts this year to increase awareness about options other than abortion, she said.

Other takeaways

The PRRI survey found slightly lower support for legal abortion, at 54 percent, than a Post-ABC poll this summer, which found 60 percent saying abortion should be legal in most or all cases. The lack of change over time contrasts with the Post-ABC poll and others showing growing support for abortion rights in recent years.

Despite majority support for abortion access in general, the PRRI poll finds fewer than four in 10 Americans in any state saying abortion should always be legal. Overall, 23 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all cases, peaking at 36 percent in Vermont.

The PRRI survey also provides a window into how Americans may view recent efforts by the Trump administration, for instance, to roll back the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurers cover the costs of birth control and defund Planned Parenthood. The administration also recently announced new rules barring groups that provide abortions or abortion referrals from participating in a federal family planning program.

The PRRI survey found that 77 percent of participants believe government programs, such as Medicaid, should cover the costs of birth control. A smaller percentage, 46 percent, supports covering abortion services, while 48 percent oppose paying for those.

The survey also shows how much attitudes differ within ethnic or religious groups. U.S.-born Hispanics, for instance, are far more supportive of legal abortion, compared to Hispanic people born elsewhere — with 59 percent of Hispanics born in the U.S. aside from Puerto Rico believing it should be allowed in most or all cases, versus 41 percent of those born in Puerto Rico, and 33 percent of those born elsewhere.

The new survey also provided details about how religious differences play out: White and Hispanic evangelical Protestants oppose legal abortion at almost the same levels. Black evangelical Protestants support abortion with a narrow 51 percent majority but nonevangelical Protestants support it at 67 percent. White Catholics are narrowly supportive of legal abortion.

The survey was conducted from January through December 2018 among a random national sample of U.S. adults reached by cellphone and landlines. The margin of sampling error for national results on abortion’s legality is 0.5 percentage points; state sample sizes range from 104 to 4,200 with error margins ranging from two to 11.5 percentage points.

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