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Americans' Abortion Views Steady in Past Year

Americans' Abortion Views Steady in Past Year

Story Highlights

  • Americans still closely split between "pro-choice" and "pro-life"
  • Public more evenly divided than usual about morality of abortion
  • Largest segment continues to hold middle position on legality

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' overall stance on abortion has been stable in recent years, with the 48% calling themselves "pro-choice" and 46% "pro-life" similar to the close division on this measure observed most years since 2010.

Line graph. Trend from 1995 to 2020 in the percentages of Americans identifying as either pro-choice or pro-life on the abortion issue. After leaning strongly pro-choice in 1995 (56%), the public became moderately more pro-choice than pro-life from 1996 to 2009. Since then attitudes have been closely split, including this year when 48% identify as pro-choice and 46% as pro-life.

For the past decade, an average of 47% of Americans have identified as pro-choice and 47% as pro-life. Almost every poll conducted during those years has revealed a close division in identification -- except in 2015, when the public tilted pro-choice, and in 2012, when it was more pro-life. Before that, from 1995 to 2009, the public leaned more pro-choice than pro-life by 49% to 43%, on average.

The latest results are from Gallup's 2020 Values and Beliefs poll, conducted May 1-13 by telephone with a random national sample of U.S. adults.

Americans Also Split on Morality of Abortion

The survey also finds Americans closely divided when asked about the morality of abortion: 44% call it morally acceptable and 47% morally wrong. This three-percentage-point difference is slightly smaller than the average five-point gap seen since 2013.

Line graph. Trend from 2001 to 2020 in the percentages of Americans describing abortion as morally acceptable or morally wrong. Most years the morally wrong position has led by a significant margin, but in 2020 views are closely split with 47% calling it morally wrong and 44% morally acceptable.

Largest Opinion Bloc Still Wants Abortion Legal With Restrictions

Gallup's longest trend on abortion asks Americans if the procedure should be legal in all circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances or illegal in all circumstances.

Consistent with the trend since 1975, a plurality of Americans choose the middle position, saying abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances (50%). However, nearly as many hold one of two doctrinaire views -- wanting abortion legal under any circumstances (29%) or wanting it illegal in all circumstances (20%).

Line graph. Trend from 1975 to 2020 in preferences for whether abortion should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances or illegal in all circumstances. Since 1975 half or more of Americans have consistently said it should be legal only under certain circumstances.

Since 1994, Gallup has clarified Americans' views on the legality of abortion by asking those who think abortion should be legal under certain circumstances to say whether they should be legal in "most circumstances" or "only in a few circumstances." The middle group breaks heavily for the more restrictive position, resulting in 14% saying abortion should be legal under most circumstances and 35% in only a few circumstances.

All told, then, 55% of Americans favor a more restrictive approach to abortion, and 43% favor a less restrictive approach. This 12-point gap -- which is down from 22 points in 2019 -- is larger than the gaps seen on the other abortion measures, perhaps reflective of the complexity of the issue.

Bar graph. Americans views on the legality of abortion. 29% of Americans say abortion should be legal under any circumstances. 50% say it should be legal under certain circumstances and 20% say it should be illegal under all circumstances.

Abortion Views Differ by Politics and Demographics

As indicated by their preferred abortion label, Americans' views on abortion differ by a number of demographic and political factors, including gender, education, household income, ideology and party identification.

The political gaps in people's identification on abortion are most notable, with Republicans and Democrats being mirror images of each other: Seven in 10 Republicans identify as pro-life, while the same proportion of Democrats say they are pro-choice. An even wider gulf is seen between self-identified conservatives (77% pro-life) and liberals (78% pro-choice), with moderates tending toward the pro-choice position (55%).

Large differences are also seen by income and education, with the highest education and income groups being substantially more likely than others to be pro-choice. Smaller gaps are seen by gender and age, with women and younger adults being more pro-choice than their counterparts.

There are insufficient numbers of Black, Hispanic or Asian Americans in the sample to examine their views separately, but there is no significant difference in identification as pro-choice or pro-life between non-Hispanic white Americans and all other Americans.

Americans' Stance on the Abortion Issue in 2020, by Subgroup
With respect to the abortion issue, would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life?
Pro-choice Pro-life Mixed/Both/Neither No opinion
% % % %
U.S. adults 48 46 4 2
Men 43 51 4 2
Women 53 41 4 2
18-34 53 43 2 2
35-54 46 46 5 3
55+ 47 47 4 2
Non-Hispanic white 48 46 5 1
Nonwhite 50 43 2 4
College graduate 62 35 2 1
Not college graduate 41 51 5 2
$100,000+ 62 35 2 0
$40,000-$99,999 46 51 2 0
<$40,000 41 49 4 6
Conservative 19 77 2 2
Moderate 55 38 5 2
Liberal 78 17 3 1
Republican 29 68 3 1
Independent 47 47 4 2
Democratic 72 24 2 2
Gallup, May 1-13, 2020

Bottom Line

Unlike other social attitudes in the U.S. -- such as on gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana and even polygamy -- Americans' views on the legality of abortion are not evolving but staying roughly where they have been for nearly a half-century. Americans' association with the "pro-choice" and "pro-life" labels has shifted somewhat in that time, but preferences on this have been closely divided over the past decade. Given the extreme partisan gaps behind this division, abortion policy is going to continue to remain controversial at the state and federal levels, as well as face continued challenges in the courts.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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