Another dubious interpretation of Gallup’s survey on abortion

By Dave Andrusko

As we’ve explained before Gallup annually conducts what it calls its “Values and Beliefs poll” which it then mines for the rest of the year. Each subsequent post builds on the previous one[s], sometimes making more sense than it does on other occasions.

The latest iteration is “On Abortion, Americans Discern Between Immoral and Illegal,” by Frank Newport and Robert Bird which came out July 20 but which I just saw.

Let’s quote their opening paragraph and then reflect on a prior post (dated June 9 and which we’ve already deconstructed) and consider what together they truly tell us.

It is complicated so please stay with me. (Spoiler alert. Newport and Bird go way overboard in what they conclude, as we will see momentarily.) They begin

Americans are often more likely to view behaviors as morally wrong than they are to advocate that these behaviors be made illegal. This underscores a general tendency for Americans to hesitate before deciding that banning an action is appropriate. As a result, one can come away with a somewhat different impression from looking at Americans’ views of the morality of a behavior versus looking at their views of whether the behavior involved should be made illegal. …

Abortion provides the most striking example of the disparity between these attitudes.

The prior June 9 post written by Lydia Saad summarized views on when abortion ought to be legal (and under what circumstances) and what the public feels about abortion’s morality.  Let me address just two points from that analysis before moving onto to what Newport and Bird do with this and related data.

#1. Saad is correct when she looks at the numbers and concludes, “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.” That is good news, good news which has been consistent over time.

#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 in April when we discussed what Pew Research 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.

Back to Newport and Bird. The conclusion they want us to reach is that when push comes to shove pro-life people are less “consistent” than pro-abortion people.

They write

We combined data from the 2013-2017 surveys and found that almost half of Americans see abortion as morally wrong, with only 20% saying it should be totally illegal.

“That means that almost three in 10 Americans have the combination of attitudes that is our primary focus: viewing abortion as morally wrong but at the same time believing it should remain legal (at least in some circumstances).”

The other group holding contradictory attitudes — that abortion is morally acceptable but should be illegal — is very small (about 2%). Apparently, once Americans have decided that abortion is morally OK, there is little question in their minds that it should be legal.

What other way–more consistent with reality, in my opinion–could you interpret these numbers? Pro-abortionist are more willing to draw out the extremist “logic” of their position.

If abortion is morally acceptable, why would you put any limitation on when an abortion could be performed? When it comes to the unborn child, they’ve already decided that there is no there there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.

Those who take a pro-life position believe abortion is morally wrong but a portion believe there are very rare circumstances—typically when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest–when “abortion should be legal.” This is not a position they embrace; it is one to which they come very reluctantly.

To return to the Pew numbers and why they are so significant. Gallup talks about abortion in a manner that distances the respondents from abortion–it’s an almost academic inquiry.

Pew, by contrast, asks the respondent to take the important additional step of imagining having an abortion–taking the life of whomever it is you believe resides within a pregnant woman’s womb.

Americans are much more pro-life and much less “inconsistent” than Gallup suggest.