Interpreting Polls on Abortion

Steve Benen is skeptical of a Gallup poll which contradicts other polls showing more Americans are “pro-life” than “pro-choice.”

I suspect, though, that polls like this are asking the wrong questions. These are the questions that seem to have the most policy salience in the debate:

* Some lawmakers and activists would like to see a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortions in the United States. Do you support or oppose such an amendment?

* The Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that women have a right to an abortion. Do you think the Supreme Court should overturn Roe?

It’s interesting to know how many Americans consider themselves “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” but there are plenty of folks for whom these labels are ambiguous. Some, for example, might say they’re “pro-life,” but don’t want to see the government mandate their beliefs on everyone else. I’m more interested in the two questions I pose, because they’re more likely to have a political effect.

Steve might be right that using these buzz words is a poor way to measure public opinion on the subject. Besides his questions, I have some additional ones:

Do you believe a woman should face criminal charges for terminating a pregnancy in the first trimester?

Do you believe a doctor should face criminal charges for performing abortions which are currently legal?

Do you want to return to the days of shirt hanger abortions?

Nate Silver and Dana Goldstein also looked at this issue and question the poll results. Regardless of the poll results there is considerable evidence that the trend is towards greater liberty on social issues, although it is certainly a possibility that there is a temporary back slide. Progress doesn’t come in straight lines.

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  1. 1
    libhomo says:

    Gallop is a very rightist, GOP polling company. I’m skeptical of all of their polls.

  2. 2
    Fritz says:

    Nobody should have allowed the anti-abortion movement to grab and keep the term “pro-life”.  That should have been fought, tediously and repeatedly, and never agreed to.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    I’m not sure anyone had a choice in the matter, but grabbing the term “pro-life” certainly helped the anti-choice movement. Bill Clinton did try to turn this around on them by proclaiming (correctly) that support for stem cell research is the pro-life position.

  4. 4
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “In answer to a question providing three options for the extent to which abortion should be legal, about as many Americans now say the procedure should be illegal in all circumstances (23%) as say it should be legal under any circumstances (22%). This contrasts with the last four years, when Gallup found a strong tilt of public attitudes in favor of unrestricted abortion.”

    I haven’t worked though the math, but it sounds like the new average is coming from this is a shift from “legal under any condition” to “legal under certain conditions.”

    I consider myself pro-life, but not anti-abortion.  However, by the time the fetus is more than 3-4 months,  (second trimester? ), I start getting uneasy. By the 3rd trimester, I’m very uncomfortable.    Where to draw the line, I’ve no idea. It seems drawing the line at time zero (abortion is never legal) or at time > 9 months (anything goes) is unworkable/unacceptable.

    In short, option is shifting around, but I don’t see a watershed here for the pro-life movement.

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