Abortion matters for some Christians, though many support a party despite their abortion position

Christians often say, or are caricatured to say, that they will support any candidate as long as he or she is pro-life, that abortion is the issue that trumps all other political considerations, and that all pro-life Christians are Republicans because the Republican party is the pro-life party.

But the data shows that abortion is not the primary determinant of politics for many Christians. Data from the General Social Survey fielded in 2016 and 2018 reveals that while most Christians oppose some facets of abortion, there is not evidence to say that most Christians are consistently pro-life (in the sense of opposing abortion). Moreover, a significant number of Christians identify with the party with an opposite view on abortion; pro-life Christians sometimes identify as Democrats, and many pro-choice Christians identify as Republicans. And Christians are more likely to be non-aligned in abortion attitudes and party identification that non-Christians. These findings push back at the misconceptions that all Christians are pro-life, that pro-life Christians are all Republicans, and that abortion is the prime determinant of political preferences for all Christians.

Many but not all Christians oppose some facets of abortion

Given the close connection between religious groups and the pro-life movement, it would be easy to assume that most if not a majority of Christians are almost always against abortion. However, the data shows heterogeneous attitudes about abortion. While survey wording matters and likely engenders different levels of support, there are varying levels of support for different pro-life positions. While a majority of Christians oppose abortion for any reason without restriction (61%) and oppose allowing women to use their health insurance to pay for an abortion (57%), less than 1 in 4 support changing state laws to make it harder to get an abortion (36%) and only 1 in 3 are morally opposed to all abortion (35%).

Many Christians identify with the party that oppose their abortion positions

If abortion was the most important determinant of political preference, we should expect that almost all pro-life Christians would identify as Republicans and nearly all pro-choice Christians would identify as Democrats. However, about a third of Christians are non-aligned. 30% of those who say women can have an abortion for any reason identify as Republicans while 36% of those who oppose abortion without restrictions identify as Democrats. Together, more than 1 in 3 of Christians identify with a party that opposes their abortion preference.

Similarly, 25% of Christians morally opposed to abortion identify as Democrats while 27% of those not morally opposed to abortion identify as Republicans. In total, more than 1 in 4 Christians identify with a party that opposes their moral view of abortion.

Christians are more likely to be non-aligned on abortion attitudes than non-Christians

And Christians are more likely to be non-aligned than Christians. By comparing the percentage of Christians and non-Christians who identify with a party that opposes their abortion attitude (i.e. pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans) across three abortion attitudes, the data reveals about 3 in 10 Christians are non-aligned while just over 2 in 10 non-Christians are non-aligned.

This means that Christians are 43% more likely to be politically non-aligned on abortion than non-Christians. In other words, there is greater congruence between abortion attitudes and party choice among non-Christians than Christians. This is evidence that Christians are less likely to be single-issue abortion voters than non-Christians, with the exception of White evangelicals whose consistent opposition to abortion is likely an outlier among American Christians overall.

These findings suggest that there are nuanced and complicated relationships between abortion and party choice among Christians. While more religious Christians and White evangelicals are more likely to oppose abortion and identify as Republican (though not always), that is not true of the American Church. Not only are there differing levels of support for different pro-life positions, but many Christians identify with the party whose party platform opposes their own personal views on abortion; and Christians are more likely to be non-aligned on abortion than non-Christians. This implies that though abortion is a critical priority, it is unlikely to be the sole determinant and only issue that determines how many Christians view their political choice. As the data shows, to be Christian is not necessarily to be pro-life, and to be pro-life does not necessarily mean you will identify as a Republican.

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