The anti-abortion movement is at risk of being seen as a paper tiger just a year after its greatest triumph, as Republican voters show little sign of being moved by high-stakes battles over the issue.
That’s one takeaway from Donald Trump’s ongoing rise in the polls, which comes as several candidates have tried to get to his right on the issue.
Ron DeSantis signed a 6-week abortion ban in Florida earlier this year that Trump indicated was “too harsh.” But the latest New York Times/Siena poll found that 70% of Republican voters who strongly support a state 6-week ban also backed Trump in the primary — a higher percentage than Trump’s total support among Republicans in the same poll.
The situation has looked much the same on the ground, where Trump has been a hit at social conservative events despite his reluctance to embrace demands from major anti-abortion groups for a national ban. Meanwhile, DeSantis is stuck in a fight with a major anti-abortion group for not backing a national 15-week ban himself, which Tim Scott and Mike Pence have embraced.
What’s going on here? Most Republicans identify as “pro-life” and say abortion should be mostly or entirely illegal in polls. But a May survey by our partners at Gallup found that only 21% of Republican voters who consider themselves “pro-life” say they only vote for candidates who share their view on abortion. That’s notably far less than the 37% of “pro-choice” Democrats who say they only vote for like-minded candidates, and the biggest gap between the two sides that Gallup has ever recorded.
Trump himself has argued abortion is overrated as a vote driver even as he continues to take credit for the fall of Roe v. Wade. He blamed “the abortion issue” for contributing to 2022 election losses, saying activists supported policies that were too extreme and that their supposed backers “just plain disappeared” after Dobbs.
Room for Disagreement
If it’s any consolation, anti-abortion activists aren’t especially unique in this regard. One Republican pollster ruefully told Semafor that no candidate seems to be getting much traction with policy specifics this cycle, which has largely been a referendum on Trump.
Republicans still have to deal with a substantial minority of their voters who support abortion access. Nationally, the New York Times/Siena poll found about 37% of Republicans say abortion should be “always” or “mostly” legal. And polls suggest Ohio could become the next red state where voters side with abortion rights activists in a direct referendum.