More than half of Americans now pro-life

In the last few days newspapers have been reporting the startling results of two recent major surveys (Gallup and Pew) regarding US opinion on abortion. For instance see the Daily Telegraph's article "More than half of Americans now pro-life"

The fact that US public opinion has swayed so sharply, by 8%, to pro-life in the last year is both very sad and quite surprising. The immediate concern is that the crossing of the 50% line will both encourage the pro-life religious right and sway politicians, particularly those in congress, regarding Roe v Wade.

Many people are glibly saying that these two recent surveys are "outliers" implying its simply due to statistical anomalies or some peculiar bias. I really have not seen any good argument to support that claim though, it appears to be simply wishful-thinking or incredulity.

I think it is worth taking a deeper look at the survey data.
Firstly compare the “gap” (between the lines) on long-term graphs from Gallup and Pew:

The similarities are striking, I’ll summarize them:

o 1995 to 1997 - The gaps narrow. Note the “blip” on Gallup in 1997 could not be present on the Pew graph simply because there were no data points (surveys) in that period.
o 1998 to 2000 - The gaps stay fairly constant.
o 2001 – The gaps suddenly close to “zero” (as today).
o 2002 to 2003 – The gaps widen again.
o 2004 to 2008 – The gaps wander, but overall stay fairly constant.
o 2009 – The gaps suddenly close, as in 2001, but this time with the respective “Pro-choice” (Gallup) and “Legal in all/most cases” (Pew) both falling to all-time lows.

Just two observations:

2001 and 2009 are both years of a major presidential change. Is this correlated to the gap closings in those years? More specifically could the preceding presidential elections when there was much increased national discussion of abortion and large campaigning by pro-life movements be a cause of the gap closings?

Why the widening of the gap again following 2001? Could it be influenced by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent events? More specifically could the obvious rise in anti-Islamic feeling spilled over into a general rise in disillusionment about religion and its issues?

Next, what about the demographics of the new pro-lifers?

Politics: Both Gallup and Pew show the 2009 rise in pro-lifers due primarily to a shift in Republicans & Republicans leaners while Democratic-oriented pro-lifers have remained remarkably static:

Similarly Pew reports 0% change among Democrats, but a +9% increase among Republicans and a +11% shift in Independents.

Religion: Gallup and Pew show the shift is biggest among Christians, with a somewhat greater shift among Protestants than Catholics. Pew then identifies white mainline Protestants as having the greatest increase (+15%).

Race: Pew shows the increase is among whites (+8%), while among blacks there has been a slight decrease (-1%).

Age: Pew shows that the increase is more dramatic among older people:

18-29 +5%
30-49 +5%
50-64 +11%
65+ +10%

Income: Pew shows increase greatest among the less affluent:

$75K + +4%
$30-$74K +8%
Under $30K +8%

Sex: Both Gallup and Pew show that the increase is greater among men (Gallup +8%, Pew +10%) than women (Gallup +6%, Pew +5%).

So the increase in pro-lifers is shown to be greatest among people who are: older; white; male; lower income; Republican-oriented; mainline Protestant. Hardly a surprising conclusion and therefore even harder to claim these two fairly consistent survey results are due to statistical anomalies. And whatever the reasons behind the results, be assured that the religious right pro-life organizations will now press harder and politicians will be seriously considering if their own voters have crossed that 50% line.

Let's wake up!


The Pew Results
The Gallup Results

Views: 56


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Comment by atheistfightingback on May 25, 2009 at 2:38pm
I agree that it is pretty sad that more than half American are pro-life and not pro-choice but it is not surprising.
Comment by Jason Spicer on May 25, 2009 at 2:00pm
I guess my complaint about nuance should have been limited to the either-or headline concerning the ridiculous marketing labels of "pro-life" and "pro-choice". It makes the situation look much more dire than the actual poll numbers suggest.

22% who support legal abortion under any circumstances + 15% who support legal abortion under most circumstances + 37% who support legal abortion only in a few circumstances = 74% (looks like there's some rounding in the chart you post, but close enough) who support legal abortion in at least some circumstances. Which means that rigid anti-abortion zealots represent only about a quarter of the respondents. Admittedly, this is a glass-half-full perspective. But those who would simply outlaw it entirely and charge it as murder are well in the minority. The "legal only in a few circumstances" people are at least willing to think about the issue, consider real-life scenarios, and agree that abortion makes sense sometimes. In other words, whether they think of themselves as "pro-choice" or not, they are supporting the choice, at least in some cases.

I don't disagree that the decline in support for legal abortion year-over-year is troubling. I agree that abortion should be widely available and freely chosen, particularly early in a pregnancy. I just don't like that such an emotionally-charged issue is boiled down to a yes-or-no set of options when that's clearly not how most people think about it. The 52% in the middle two columns above are on a spectrum of unease concerning abortion. People can be persuaded to move on a spectrum. Not so much when they're dug into opposing trenches. The headlines for these polls are likely to push people into those trenches, which is irresponsible. Of course, what people say on polls and what they support in practice aren't always the same. I suspect many people who oppose abortion in principle still end up getting abortions.

I like to think the introduction of Mifepristone (RU-486) was the beginning of the end of the abortion debate. Ultimately, technology will enable the abortion decision to be made completely privately between a woman and her doctor, with sufficient discretion that protesters won't know where to block the sidewalks. Nobody blockades pharmacies that sell birth-control pills, even though the Pope would like them to be illegal. Of course, we do need to get the church out of the health-care industry...
Comment by Martin Snowden on May 22, 2009 at 1:45am
I'm not sure where you get that 75% figure from or which of the two polls you are referring to.
More importantly both polls were nuanced in that regard, Gallup making the important distinction between "Legal under most circumstances" and "Legal only in a few circumstances" - i.e. the common pro-life exceptions of woman's life at risk, rape and incest. Here are those results with a comparison to a year ago:

Pew made that important distinction too:

"The decline in support for legal abortion has come entirely in the share saying abortion should be legal in most cases (from 37% to 28%); 18% say abortion should be legal in all cases, which is virtually unchanged from last August (17%). Currently, 44% say abortion should be illegal in most (28%) or all cases (16%), up slightly since last August (41%)."

Either of the pro-life positions: "abortion totally illegal" or "abortion illegal except for woman's life at risk, rape and incest" threaten the current legal right of a woman to choose to have an abortion.
Comment by Jason Spicer on May 21, 2009 at 12:24am
The pro-life/pro-choice labeling is too simplistic to be meaningful. The very same poll showed that an overwhelming majority of 75% think that abortion should be legal in at least some cases. So even a lot of "pro-life" people support legal abortion at least sometimes (health of the mother, rape, etc). No right comes completely without restrictions, and abortion is no different. It makes sense that there are cases where it isn't allowed, and even most "pro-choice" people agree with that (third trimester, for example). We need more nuanced polling and more responsible reporting and headline-writing. The sky is not falling here. Legal abortion is not seriously in danger of disappearing, at least in most places.
Comment by unholyroller on May 19, 2009 at 11:17pm definitly have the right of it. You don't find them lining up at adoption agencies either.
Comment by Buffy on May 19, 2009 at 9:08pm
"Pro-life" my backside. They're pro-fetus. Once the fetus has been pushed out of the womb they don't give a damn about it because it's now just a tax burden. Try and get any of these "pro-life" people to part with an extra penny of their money to support needy children and families, the homeless, etc. It's not going to happen.
Comment by Mel on May 19, 2009 at 8:54pm
I'm not sure that many of the hard-core Republican/conservative religious (of any type) WOULD object to being anti-choice. "No, you SHOULDN'T have choices. Why do you feel you should have choices? There is only Gods Will." Excuse the characture, but thats definately the feeling I get from some of them out there.
I think "illegal" is also a very... well lets say interesting choice of words. In New Zealand (where I is) it is "illegal" to get an abortion.... Unless you can get two different medical specialists to prove it would cause you severe emotional, mental of physical harm. And the fact of the matter is, if you WANT one, you can get one. A safe, medically supervised, definately-no-coat-hangers-involved abortion. The law is about 30 years old and there is push for reform from folks on both sides of the disagreement.
But simply because it's illegal, doesn't mean it's inaccessable.
Comment by HotMess on May 19, 2009 at 8:04pm
I view the results of that poll as sort of an artifact of the influence of the previous administration. In 6 months, people will change their minds, especially when other factors, like availability of sex education to minors, and increased use of BC make unplanned pregnancies less of a focal point for the religious right.
Comment by Martin Snowden on May 19, 2009 at 6:39pm
Mel, I of course agree with you entirely, though to be fair "pro-choice" was chosen for similar reasons - nobody wants to be classified as "anti-choice" either! It's a fierce religiopolitical war and the gloves have been off for a very long time. We are stuck with the terms.
Comment by Mel on May 19, 2009 at 6:21pm
Gragh. I hate the term "pro-life". It's very obvious why the team chose that word. Coz who want to put their hand up and say they're "anti-life"?!
I'm pro-life - I'm against the death-penalty, I give to food banks so that people don't starve, I'm concerned about the famines in Africa (and if I thought something I could do would actually help, I would), I'm for cures for cancer so that people don't die in agony, I try not to swat flies in my house and put them outside instead, I try to help the plants in my garden survive. See, very pro-life! I just think that women should be able to choose about abortion.



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