By Dave Andrusko
Gallup 2011 Values and Beliefs survey, conducted May 5-8, offers a welter of good news for pro-lifers, although appreciating just how encouraging it is requires that you read carefully.
The headline is a useful starting point: “Americans Still Split Along ‘Pro-Choice,’ ‘Pro-Life’ Lines: Majorities believe abortion is morally wrong, legal access to it should be restricted.”
Far too often most attention is paid to the response to the basic Gallup question–whether respondents believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances, legal under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances to determine what people really believe. If you just add the first two, you get a very misleading 50%.
But, as veteran Gallup analyst Lydia Saad points out, since 1994 Gallup has “asked those who think abortion should be legal under certain circumstances to say whether it should be legal in ‘most’ or ‘only a few’ circumstances.” When you get people fuller, more nuanced options, it turns out that “61% now preferring that abortion be legal in only a few circumstances or no circumstances.” Only 37% want abortion legal in all or most circumstances.
Thus Saad properly concludes, “Americans are rather conservative in their stance on abortion.”
What’s particularly interesting is that the numbers are virtually identical for men, women, and the 18-34 year old cohort. A total of 61% of men say abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances (42%) or illegal in all cases (19%).
For women a total of 60% say abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances (36%) or illegal in all cases (24%).
For the 18-24 year olds, a total of 59% told Gallup that abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances (35%) or illegal in all cases (24%).
Asked about the morality of abortion, 51% of the 1,018 adults said abortion is “morally wrong,” while 39% said it is “morally acceptable.” (Just in passing, “morally wrong” is very clear-cut. “Morally acceptable” is much mushier.)
Then there is the issue of self-identification. There has been a slight decline. Last year 47% identified as pro-life to 45% pro-choice. This year 49% self-identify as pro-choice to 45% pro-life.
As would be expected, responses reflect partisan divisions.
“Republicans and Democrats also differ in their views on the morality and legality of abortion,” Saad writes. “Nearly three-quarters of Republicans consider abortion morally wrong and nearly 8 in 10 say abortions should be legal in only a few circumstances or illegal in all circumstances. By contrast, just over half of Democrats believe abortion is morally acceptable and say abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances.”
What about political independents? They “are evenly divided on the moral correctness of abortion,” according to Saad, “but they tilt fairly strongly toward restrictive abortion laws, with 60% saying abortion should be legal in a few or no circumstances.”
Saad’s “bottom line”?
“Americans’ views on abortion held fairly steady over the past year, with the public still sharply divided over the ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ labels. Nevertheless, majorities of Americans indicate some reluctance about abortion on both moral and legal grounds. This is seen most strongly among Republicans and older Americans.”