How many Republicans agree with Todd Akin on abortion?

August 22, 2012

Rep. Todd Akin's statements on "legitimate rape" and his position on restricting abortion have left him with a shrinking number of defenders, even within his own party.

But despite his ill-chosen words, the basis of his position on abortion -- that it should be illegal in all cases -- is shared by a significant number of Republicans, even as there is a wide range of opinions on how far to go.

Overall, 63 percent of Republicans think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases according to a new poll from the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Drilling down further, a quarter of Republicans take the absolute position that it should always be illegal. (The question did not lay out precisely what the exceptions would be, but generally they are rape, incest and the life of the mother.)

The new Post-Kaiser poll identifies five distinct groups of Republicans based on a variety of opinions on social and political issues, including attitudes on the abortion question. These five groups vary widely on making abortion illegal in all cases, ranging from a high of 53 percent to a low of 1 percent.

The group that takes the most hard-line stance is the "pro-government conservatives." Over half think abortion should be illegal in all cases. Interestingly, this group is not only defined by its views on social issues like abortion, but by its willingness to allow a role for government in public life. These voters are the most religious of the Republican groups. The problem for Aiken is that this GOP cluster is the smallest of any of the groups, accounting for just 12 percent of all Republicans.

Two of the larger Republicans groups -- the "tea party movement Republicans" and "religious values voters" -- also stake out very conservative positions on abortion. Accounting for almost half of all Republicans, they lean more toward making abortion illegal in most cases, but just about three in 10 say it should be illegal in all cases.

The remaining two Republican groups have much more liberal views on abortion. Some 15 percent of "window shoppers" say it should be illegal in all cases. (This group makes up 17 percent of all Republicans; it is the youngest group and its values and policy views tend to resemble Democrats.)

Only 1 percent of the "old school Republicans" take the absolute view on restricting abortion in all cases. These voters comprise 22 percent of all Republicans. They are the wealthiest of the GOP groups and take more liberal views on social issues while maintaining more conservative positions on other issues, especially economic ones. On absolutely restricting abortion, "old school Republicans" match the views of the two most liberal Democratic groups.

While very few have stepped up to defend Akin's words on restricting abortion, the premise that abortion should be made illegal in all cases finds acceptance among significant pockets of Republicans, even if it is still clearly the minority position.

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Sean Sullivan | August 22, 2012