Understanding the nuances of the latest Gallup poll on abortion is very encouraging

By Dave Andrusko

If ever “how” you say something dramatically influences the outcome, it would surely be the wording used in abortion polling. Having said that, let’s jump right into Gallup’s latest abortion poll released yesterday.

We’re going to discuss the question of whether abortion is morally acceptable or morally wrong. Then we’ll look at the majority that still wants abortion legal in “only a few circumstances” or “illegal in all circumstances.” Finally, we’ll address the perennial misleading results when people are asked about “overturning” Roe v. Wade

Given the stability in abortion polling, the headline to Megan Brenan’s analysis  is not surprising:  “Record-High 47% in U.S. Think Abortion Is Morally Acceptable.” This is not good news but should not be seen as some big change because it isn’t. As you might expect, a key driving the change is that “Sixty-four percent of Democrats and 51% of Independents” say abortion is morally acceptable.

Three things. 

#1. The percentage gap between those who agree (“generally”) that abortion is “morally acceptable” and those who say abortion is “morally wrong”  has been small. “The latest gap, based on a May 3-18 Gallup poll, is slightly smaller than last year’s, when 47% thought abortion was morally wrong and 44% said it was morally acceptable,” Brenan writes.

#2. As we have discussed many times, you get dramatically different results when the abortion question goes from the abstract to the concrete. In 2019, for example, Pew Research reported that 

A slight majority of Americans (52%) say having an abortion is morally wrong. One quarter says it is not a moral issue, and just 10% say it is morally acceptable. (The remaining 12% say that the morality of abortion depends on the situation or refuse to express an opinion.)

Just to be clear more than five times as many Americans (52%) say having an abortion is morally wrong than say it is morally acceptable (10%).

#3. This so often gets missed. “Morally moral” is a much stronger statement than “morally acceptable.”

Majority would severely limit abortion

A constant since Gallup began polling using more probing questions is that there is majority support for severely limiting abortion. That remains true inn Gallup’s latest poll where a total of 52% of respondents said abortion should be legal “only in a few circumstances” (33% ) or “illegal in all circumstances” (19% ).

What about Roe?

There are, with rare exceptions, two constants to this question. It’s either/or—you want Roe “overturned” (32% in the latest poll) or you don’t (58%). Nothing about specifics, e.g., would the respondent want Roe revisited to ban abortions on, say, pain-capable unborn children. There are plenty of examples where you would find majority support. Alas, to this day, only a small percentage of the population realizes that Roe/Doe essentially legalized abortion on demand throughout pregnancy.

And, perhaps most important, if Roe is overturned, the right to write their own abortion laws would return to the states. Each state would make its own determination. Abortion would not be “banned.” It would be negotiation within the democratic process as it was before the Supreme Court threw out the statutes of all 50 states in 1973.