More than half of Americans support civil unions according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post polls.

In total, 55 per cent approve of legalising civil unions and giving same-sex couples the same rights as those who are married in matters such as insurance, inheritance and pensions.

The latest figures are up from 45 per cent in the same poll in 2006.

Yet behind the majority, deep divisions still exist.

While Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giulani, backed by the likes of televangelist Pat Robertson, is a firm advocate of civil unions and legal abortion, many of the principal groups within his party are not.

In particular, more than half of Conservative Republicans and evangelical white Protestants are fiercely against civil unions.

In other sectors of society, support for civil unions is especially strong among adults under 30 and those living on the East and West coasts, rather than those in the Midwest and the South.

Support is also higher among whites than blacks and among women (59 per cent) than men (51 per cent).

Backing for legal abortion is by contrast the same among men and women, and among blacks and whites.

Divisions are particularly pronounced between evangelical white Protestants (63 percent are opposed to legal abortion) and their non-evangelical equivalents (65 per cent support abortion).

Abortion is also supported by 53 per cent of white Catholics.

On immigration, 51 per cent support programmes which offer permanent status to illegal immigrants while 44 percent oppose it.