By Dave Andrusko
If memory serves me right, it is usually around the beginning of May that Gallup conducts with it calls its annual Values and Beliefs survey. The results trickle out over the next couple of months.
An analysis of the 1,011 adults queried by Gallup to various dimensions of abortion issue appeared June 9. What does the latest survey tell us? Let’s start at the end with what the author Lydia Saad calls the “Bottom Line” and work backwards:
There is no consensus among the American public for making abortion completely legal or illegal. Rather, the largest segment falls in the middle, saying it should be legal but with restrictions. Nearly half of U.S. adults also consider abortion morally wrong.
This helps explain how the states have been able to pass a vast array of laws limiting when, where and how abortions can be performed. It also sheds light on how citizens can shift from electing a staunchly pro-choice president in Barack Obama to electing an avowed pro-life one in Donald Trump. For most Americans, the issue involves shades of gray, not black and white.
#1. We have long lauded Gallup for changing the way it asks a key question about abortion to give a nuanced and far more accurate portrait of public opinion. They first ask, “Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?”
We learn 29% say “legal under any circumstances,” 18% say “illegal in all circumstances” and 50% say “legal only under certain circumstances.” That’s where most polling companies stop.
But Gallup then ask the middle group–those who response “legal only under certain circumstances”– “whether those should be most circumstances or only a few, and, by nearly a 3-to-1 ratio, they choose only a few, 36% vs. 13%,” according to Saad. “Thus, the slight majority of Americans (54%) favor curtailing abortion rights — saying abortion should be illegal or legal in only a few circumstances. Slightly fewer, 42%, want access to abortion to be unrestricted or legal in most circumstances.”
(The 54% is comprised of the 18% who say “illegal in all circumstances” and the 36% who said legal “in only a few circumstances.”)
Gallup is correct: that is why pro-life legislation passes and passes and passes. It is in tune with the electorate.
#2. Saad writes, “Slightly more U.S. adults today believe the procedure is morally wrong (49%) than morally acceptable (43%). This has also been the case in most readings since Gallup started tracking this annually in 2001.”
I would remind readers of an important point made last month when we discussed what Pew found when it asked about abortion and morality.
“More than four-in-ten Americans (44%) say having an abortion is morally wrong, while 19% think it is morally acceptable and 34% say it is not a moral issue,” Michael Lipka and John Gramlich of Pew tell us.
What explains the huge difference? One is the question. Gallup’s is more abstract: is abortion “morally wrong ” or “morally acceptable”?
Pew asks is having an abortion morally wrong or morally acceptable. Almost two and one-half times as many people say having an abortion is morally wrong as say it is morally acceptable
#3. “In terms of the two abortion labels, 49% of U.S. adults consider themselves pro-choice on the abortion issue, while 46% consider themselves pro-life,” according to Saad. “Again, this represents almost no change compared with a year ago and is consistent with the close division seen over the past decade. By contrast, in the earliest years Gallup asked this, in 1995 and 1996, there was greater attachment to the pro-choice label, with 56% and 53%, respectively, identifying as such. Americans continued to prefer the pro-choice label over the pro-life label by a slight margin in most years through 2009, but the two have since been about tied.”
In spite of 59 million abortions and the passage of over 44 years and a constant pro-abortion media drumbeat, the large advantage “pro-choice” enjoyed back in the 1990s has vanished. Finally
#4. Not surprisingly, self-identified Democrats are more pro-abortion than ever. Saad writes, “[T]he largest segment of Democrats say abortion should be legal in all circumstances, while solid majorities consider abortion morally acceptable and call themselves pro-choice.” This is tragic and a repudiation of the genuinely liberal values that the party once stood for.
Likewise, we are not surprised that “The majority of Republicans think abortion should be legal in only certain circumstances, and solid majorities call it morally wrong and consider themselves pro-life.” And, then we read, “Political independents fall between the two major parties on these measures, although they come a bit closer to Republicans than to Democrats in their choice of abortion labels.”
Really? As the graph from Gallup shows, Independents are not “a bit closer” to Republicans “on their choice of labels” than to Democrats but much closer.
Likewise it is to seriously minimize how much closer Independents are to Republicans than to Democrats on the important questions of when abortion should be legal and its morality when Saad simply says they “fall between the two major parties on these measures.”
All in all, pro-lifers should be very encouraged by the latest numbers from Gallup.