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?
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.
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%).
Pew shows the increase is among whites (+8%), while among blacks there has been a slight decrease (-1%).
Pew shows that the increase is more dramatic among older people:
Pew shows increase greatest among the less affluent:
$75K + +4%
Under $30K +8%
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