RWAP: Neil O’Brian

Wednesday, September 4, 2019
12:00pm to 1:30pm
119 Moses Hall (Harris Room)
UC Berkeley

Title: Before Reagan: The Development of the Partisan Divide on Abortion

Abstract: What explains the alignment of anti-abortion positions within the Republican party? I explore this development among voters, activists and elites before 1980. By 1969-1970, anti-abortion attitudes among ordinary voters correlated with conservative views on a range of non-economic issues including civil rights, Vietnam, feminism, and by 1972, with Republican presidential vote choice. These attitudes predated the parties taking divergent abortion positions. I argue that because racial conservatives and military hawks entered the Republican coalition before abortion became politically activated, issue overlap among ordinary voters incentivized Republicans to oppose abortion rights once the issue gained salience. Likewise, because pro- abortion voters generally supported civil rights, once the GOP adopted a Southern strategy, this predisposed pro-choice groups to align with the Democratic party. A core argument is that pre-existing public opinion enabled activist leaders to embed the anti (pro) abortion movement in a web of conservative (liberal) causes. A key finding is that the white evangelical laity’s support for conservative abortion policies preceded the political mobilization of evangelical leaders into the pro-life movement. I contend the pro-life movement’s alignment with conservatism and the Republican party was less contingent on elite bargaining, and more rooted in the mass public, than existing scholarship suggests.