A Rise in Conservative Republicans Against Abortion? Or Fewer Conservative Republicans?

Taking a second look at a recent Pew survey.
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Taking a second look at a recent Pew survey.
(Photo: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock)

A recent Pew survey compared attitudes a year ago and last month on the subject of abortion. The 2015 survey was done in the immediate wake of those now-famous videos of Planned Parenthood officials, videos shot surreptitiously and edited tendentiously. The demographic that showed the largest swing in opinion was conservative Republicans.

Among people who identified themselves as conservative Republicans, opposition to abortion rose from 65 percent to 79 percent. Four out of five conservative Republicans now oppose abortion. No other group in the survey comes in at more than half.


The obvious explanation is that in the past year an additional 14 percent of conservative Republicans have become more conservative on abortion. The hardliners are becoming even harder. But there’s another possibility—that many of the conservative Republicans who did not oppose abortion a year ago no longer call themselves conservative Republicans.That’s not as unlikely as it might seem.


The Gallup poll shows that, among Republicans, those who identified themselves as conservative on both economic and social issues—the largest segment of the faithful—dropped from 51 percent to 42 percent. What if all the dropouts were abortion moderates?

I did some simple math. I imagined 100 Republicans in 2014. Of those, 51 were self-identified conservatives and, of those, 65 percent opposed abortion. That makes 33 who thought abortion should be illegal nearly all the time.

Last month, only 42 of those 100 Republicans said they were thoroughly conservative, nine fewer than a year ago. Of those left, 79 percent were anti-abortion. That makes 33. In my scenario, these were the same 33 as a year ago. The nine who defected to the less-than-fully conservative camps were the ones who were wishy-washy about making abortion totally illegal. These nine people looked at the hardcore, and the next time that a pollster asked them about where they stood politically, they thought, “If being a conservative Republican means wanting all abortions to be illegal, maybe I’m not so conservative after all.”


I’m speculating here of course—the data and calculations here are surely too simplistic; I am not a political scientist—but maybe the party purists are indeed forcing others who used to be close to them politically to re-think their identification as conservative Republicans.

This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site, as “A Rise in Conservative Republicans Against Abortion? Or Fewer Conservative Republicans?"