How Trump Differs From Other Republicans on Abortion and Why He Appears More Resilient

Donald Trump

is displaying unexpected resilience on the abortion issue, appearing less susceptible than fellow Republicans despite his significant role in shaping the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

An Ohio referendum last Tuesday guaranteeing abortion access and similar election outcomes have raised Democrats’ hopes of replicating those victories in 2024.

But Trump has remained steady in recent surveys, even among voters supportive of maintaining abortion mostly legal.

President Joe Biden

, who holds a significant lead among those in favor of always legal abortion, only led the “mostly legal” group by 1 percentage point in the recent New York Times/Siena College surveys of battleground states.

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Trump seems to have effectively neutralized abortion as an issue during the Republican primary. He appears to be catering to general election voters by being vague and attempting to occupy a middle ground, possibly allowing voters to interpret his stance as they wish. In presidential elections, a relatively small section of the population tends to vote based on any single social issue, even if that issue is abortion.

Voters who want abortion to be “mostly legal” are approximately twice as likely to base their voting decisions on economic issues rather than social issues like abortion. The only group where social issues are nearly as important as economic issues in the swing states are white college-educated voters, and they are expected to make up a smaller percentage of the electorate in a presidential year than in a low-turnout off-year election like the Ohio abortion referendum.

The share of voters prioritizing economic issues over social issues has risen by over 12 percentage points in favor of the economy since the 2022 election, according to Times polling in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona.

Joel Graham, 49, of Grant County, Wisconsin, expressed his desire for abortion access to remain widespread: “In my mind, it’s not a politician’s choice, it’s a woman and a family’s choice.”

“If Trump is elected, I have some concerns that there’s a chance he would put more hard-core conservatives on the Supreme Court and they might crack down more on abortion,” he said. Nevertheless, he stated that he plans to vote for Trump again because of his economic policies and concerns about the Biden administration’s foreign policy.

Trump has taken varied stands on the abortion issue over the years. In 1999 as a member of the Reform Party, he stated he was “very pro-choice.” In his 2016 run for office, he said women should be punished for having an abortion, but later retracted the statement. Recently, he took full credit on his social media platform for being the one who ended the constitutional right to abortion in America: “I was able to kill Roe v. Wade.”

When asked in September whether he would sign a federal abortion ban at 15 weeks, he declined to provide a definitive answer. “I’m not going to say I would or I wouldn’t,” he said.

Conservative Republicans such as evangelicals have encouraged Trump to take a stronger stance against abortions. However, evangelicals have been among his staunchest supporters, and he is unlikely to lose their backing. For many Republicans who desire some abortion access, his lack of a clear stance — combined with his apparent long-term apathy on the issue — has not been an issue.

“I haven’t seen Trump say something either way on abortion; he doesn’t seem to care either way and that’s fine with me,” said a 38-year-old woman from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, who spoke on condition of anonymity. She wanted abortion to be mostly legal and planned to vote for Trump again.

With the possible exception of Nikki Haley, Trump’s opponents for the Republican nomination have struggled to address evolving views on abortion. Governor Ron DeSantis largely avoided the topic on the campaign trail, despite having signed a six-week abortion ban in Florida, a law that some members of his own party deemed extreme. Trump labeled it “a terrible mistake.”

DeSantis quietly expressed support for a federal 15-week abortion ban this year, after dodging questions for months, and criticized Trump: “Pro-lifers should know he is preparing to sell you out.”

But Trump has distanced himself from more stringent abortion laws, favored by some in his party, seemingly acknowledging their unpopularity. Half of swing state voters oppose a federal 15-week abortion ban, while 42% are in favor. Voters who want abortion to be mostly legal are fairly divided on a 15-week ban, with a slim majority opposed.

For those wanting abortion to be mostly legal, Trump’s role in overturning Roe doesn’t seem to be a major concern.

“I don’t think Trump was responsible for the Supreme Court’s decision,” said Michael Yott, a 37-year-old police officer from the Detroit area. “I honestly think that Trump is just for less government and states’ rights, and I’m fine with that. Now with Roe being gone, it’s up to each state to create their own rules and that’s fine.”

Yott expressed his hope that some access to abortion would be maintained, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy, but added, “My answer contradicts the stance of Republican candidates, but it’s just not that high on my list of issues.”

c.2023 The New York Times Company


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