Slight change in self-identification on abortion, more important results underplayed in latest Gallup poll


By Dave Andrusko

GalluppollIn findings from its latest “Values and Beliefs survey,” conducted May 8-11, Gallup says that 47% of Americans consider themselves to be pro-choice and 46% consider themselves to be pro-life. In May 2013, 48% called themselves pro-life and 45% describe themselves as pro-choice.

But the more interesting numbers are found elsewhere in the summary written by Lydia Saad. Here are four examples.

#1. “By far the biggest differences in these views are political, with over two-thirds of Republicans [67%] calling themselves pro-life and about as many Democrats identifying as pro-choice [28%],” Saad writes. “Independents fall squarely in the middle [45%].”

#2. Her next conclusion is less helpful because, for some reason, there is no link to “survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends,” as there customarily is.

Saad writes, “A second long-term Gallup trend, this one measuring Americans’ views on the extent to which abortion should be legal, finds 50% saying abortion should be “legal only under certain circumstances,” or in other words, favoring limited abortion rights. This stance has prevailed since 1975. However, a combined 49% of Americans takes a more hardline position, including 28% saying abortion should be legal in all circumstances and 21% believing it should be illegal in all circumstances.”

This is very curious and slightly misleading (unless I am just not seeing something).

What has made Gallup surveys much more useful in recent years is that they asked those who responded “legal only under certain circumstances” whether that meant “legal under most circumstances” or “legal only in a few circumstances.” That finer, more nuanced, and therefore more accurate explanation is not on the web page, and (as I say) without a link to the methodology, we can’t know if the question was even asked.

When it was asked in May 2013, we found that a total of 58% said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances (20%) or legal only in a few circumstances (38%).

This gets a little tricky, so bear with me.

According to Gallup, the “hardline” position has increased. True, but very little. In 2013, 26% said abortion should be legal under any circumstances –versus 28% this year–while 20% said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances last year —as compared to 21% in 2014. 2+1=3 point change.

However, with this little movement, it stands to reason that the total of “in only a few circumstances” and “illegal in all circumstances” could be very, very close to that same 58% it was in 2013. That’s good news.

#3. Is even more of a mystery. Saad writes, “Nineteen percent of U.S. registered voters currently say candidates for major offices must share their views on abortion to get their vote. This number slightly eclipses the 16% to 17% seen since 2004 and is significantly higher than the 13% to 14% that Gallup recorded between 1992 and 2000. Only once, in May 2001, was the figure higher, at 21%.” Okay, so which side has the advantage?

She continues, “Gallup finds more pro-life voters than pro-choice voters saying they will only back candidates who share their views, 24% vs. 16%. Thus, the pro-life side has more intensity on the issue.” So far, so good.

Said then concludes, ”However, because there are more pro-choice than pro-life registered voters (50% to 44%), this equates to 11% of all registered voters saying they will only vote for pro-life candidates and 8% saying they will only vote for pro-choice candidates — not a great advantage or disadvantage for either side.” Two things about that.

First, it is true, generally, that registered voters are more likely to vote than those who wait until the last minute. But I’d love to know what evidence there is that in recent elections, there have been more pro-choice than pro-life registered voters (in this poll by 6 points, 50-44).

Second, many, many, many elections are nail-bitters. A net 3% advantage is potential pivotal. It should not be dismissed as “not a great advantage or disadvantage for either side.” Finally…

#4. Said concludes, “In January, Jeremy W. Peters in a New York Times article described abortion as an ‘unexpectedly animating issue in the 2014 midterm elections,’ and referred back to the reported success that abortion rights groups had in 2012, both with modeling and targeting ‘women’s health’ voters. Indeed, Gallup finds that a quarter of Republican voters (24%) and 19% of Democratic voters claim they will only vote for a candidate who shares their views on abortion, making these voters prime targets for party turnout efforts. While their impact could result in a draw on the abortion issue, it is a battle neither party can afford to ignore.”

Well yes and no and yes and no. Abortion will be an “animating issue,” particularly for the pro-life electorate. You’d wouldn’t know from Peters’ article that pro-lifers practically ran the table in 2010 or that pro-lifers (and others who largely share our commitment to life) have learned a great deal about how to identify people who share our perspective.

And, the most telling quote (certainly for the 2014 mid-elections) was in the final paragraph in Peters’ story:

“Off-year elections are difficult,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “You have lower turnout, and a lot of drop-off voters are women. So in a lot of ways, making sure women are aware and voting is important.”