What will newest Gallup poll tell us about abortion and public opinion?

2019 results were hugely encouraging

By Dave Andrusko

Each year, typically in June (or at the very end of May), Gallup releases its most up-to-date assessment of where the American people are on abortion. With a presidential election coming up November 3 that will feature pro-life President Donald Trump against pro-abortion former Vice President Joe Biden, this year’s results will be more important than ever.

Let’s review what Gallup told us in 2019. The results were very encouraging.

On May 29, Gallup gave us the results of what it calls its “Values and Beliefs poll.” People are asked straightforwardly whether a given behavior is “morally acceptable” or “morally wrong.”

Although she conspicuously did  not point it out, in the story written by Gallup’s Megan Brenan, we discover that the percentage of Americans who believe abortion is morally acceptable is tied for its lowest point in six years—42%.

Conversely, the percentage of Americans who believed abortion is morally unacceptable was at its highest point in seven years—50%.

One month later (June 25, to be exact) Gallup published the results of a survey with this let’s-minimize-the-significance headline: “Majority in U.S. Still Want Abortion Legal, With Limits.” 

Talk about burying the lead! Our headline was much more representative: Latest Gallup poll shows strong increases in pro-life sentiment.” Here’s what the results actually showed us.

1. We have frequently praised Gallup for asking more discerning questions about abortion and for asking follow-up questions. In 2018, Gallup found that a total of 53% wanted abortion legal “only in a few circumstances” (35%) or “illegal in all circumstances” (18%).

In 2019, Lydia Saad casually observed, a total of 60% want abortion legal “only in a few circumstances” (39%) or “illegal in all circumstances” (21%).

That is a big, big jump of 7 points.

2. What about voting based on a candidate’s position on abortion?

We cautioned NRL News Today readers last June not to get lost in the fact there is more overall interest in abortion. That is important but secondary. Look at which side has the largest increase in the percentage of people who will only vote for candidates who agree with them on abortion.

Here are three long passages from Saad’s account.

Consistent with all prior Gallup trends on the subject, most Americans say that abortion is not critical to their vote, but the percentage saying they would only vote for a candidate for major office who shares their views on abortion has been inching up over the past decade. The figure is now 29%, compared with 20% when Gallup last asked this in 2016 [Note—an increase of 9 points in just three years], and a low of 13% in 2008.

Meanwhile, the percentages saying a candidate’s position on abortion is just one of many important issues they take into account when voting, or that abortion is not important to their vote, have been trending down — currently at 44% and 26%, respectively.

Not only is the overall percentage of Americans saying that abortion is key to their vote at a record high, but the percentage is at its peak among self-identified “pro-choice” and “pro-life” Americans.

So, before going further, let’s summarize. Fewer people say abortion is “just one of many important issues” (or not important at all) and more say a candidate must agree with them on abortion. 

So, who does this benefit? Saad wrote

Currently, 26% of pro-choice adults say they will only vote for a candidate who shares their views on abortion, up from 17% in 2016.

However, the matter continues to be more important as a voting issue to pro-life than pro-choice adults, as it has in every Gallup measure since 2004. Thirty-five percent of pro-life adults now say they will only vote for like-minded candidates on the issue, an increase from 23% in 2016.

Just to be clear, in 2016 more pro-life adults than pro-choice adults said “they will only vote for a candidate who shares their views on abortion”—23% to 17%–a 6 point advantage.

But in 2019 the gap is even larger–35% to 26%–a nine point advantage.

3. What about self-identification? This bounces around, but the overall point is that in 1996, 56% self-identified as pro-choice to only 37% who self-identified as pro-life. As recently as 2015, 50% identified as pro-choice to 44% who identified as pro-life, Gallup reports.

In 2018, 48% said they were pro-life, 48% said they were pro-choice. Even-steven.

But in 2019, 49% identified as pro-life to 46% who identified as pro-choice.