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CBS News poll analysis: At the first Republican debate what policy goals do voters want to hear? Stopping abortions isn't a top one

The 2024 Republican presidential primary is the first nomination contest to take place since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It was a ruling most Republicans agreed with and viewed as a victory for the anti-abortion rights movement.  

Fast forward just over a year later, and the issue of abortion is likely to come up at the first Republican debate Wednesday night, but how much do rank-and-file Republican primary voters want to hear about stopping abortions now?  And would the electorate go further and back a national abortion ban? 

Fewer than half the GOP primary electorate would prefer a nominee who supports a national abortion ban, and for many others, policy on that doesn't matter either way. Our latest CBS News Poll asked Republican primary voters about a range of policy goals and how important it is to hear about the candidates' plans to achieve them. Plans to stop abortions ranked the lowest in importance of any policy goal asked about. Other policies, like plans to lower inflation, stop immigration and reduce violent crime were at the top. 

The abortion issue motivated Democrats in the 2022 midterms, keeping them competitive, and after the passage of a string of state ballot measures protecting abortion rights, the issue of abortion is not an especially salient one among the GOP primary electorate right now.


Where do Republicans stand on abortion?

Most Republicans have long held the view that abortion should be mostly illegal — a view that is different from the broader public, who support the legality of abortion and see the overturning of Roe as something that was bad for the country


But there is some division within Republican primary voters, particularly as it relates to a national abortion ban — a policy that divides the GOP field itself.  

Just over a third of the Republican primary electorate prefer a GOP nominee who supports a national ban, boosted by most evangelicals and the very conservative in the party. Seven in 10 of this group place high importance on hearing about candidate plans to stop abortions, but it still ranks behind other goals like stopping immigration, lowering inflation, reducing violent crime and cutting government spending. 


There is a relatively smaller portion of primary voters — although not insignificant — who want a nominee who opposes a national ban. More women than men prefer a candidate with this view, and very few of them want to hear the candidates talk about stopping abortions at the debate. The moderates in the party tend to hold this view. 

For another third, a candidate's stance on an abortion ban doesn't matter to them, and this group is the least likely to say it's very important to hear candidate plans to stop abortions. Only 8% say it's very important, compared to 92% who place that level of importance on hearing about plans to lower inflation.

While abortion may not be a priority issue for the GOP primary electorate right now, it's sure to be a key issue in the 2024 general election. It's a top priority for Democrats and will be a huge part of their campaign next year. 

This CBS News/YouGov survey conducted was with a nationally representative sample of 2,061 U.S. adult residents interviewed between August 16-18, 2023, including 538 likely Republican primary voters. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the U.S. Census American Community Survey and Current Population Survey, as well as past vote. The margin of error is ±3.0 points for the sample overall and ±5.7 points for likely Republican primary voters.


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