Analysis

New Gallup poll isn’t the ‘gotcha’ abortion supporters think it is. Here’s why.

Gallup

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this guest post are solely those of the author and are not necessarily reflective of Live Action or Live Action News.

This morning, Gallup released an extensive amount of new polling data on sanctity of life issues. This is one of the first national surveys on abortion that has taken place since the start of the Biden administration. Overall, attitudes on sanctity of issues have remained stable. The Gallup poll found at that 47 percent of Americans identify as “pro-life” while 49 percent identify as “pro-choice.” This finding is very consistent with recent Gallup surveys. Of the six Gallup polls taken since 2016, pro-life sentiment averaged 47 percent.

The mainstream media will likely spin a few of the findings from this recent Gallup poll to argue that there has been a decrease in pro-life sentiment. However, pro-lifers should not be misled.

“Morally acceptable” sentiment is largely unchanged

First, it is true that this survey finds that percentage of Americans who think abortion is “morally acceptable” reached an all-time high. However, while the survey found that 47 percent of Americans think abortion is “morally acceptable,” this is only a 3-percentage-point gain from the most recent Gallup survey in 2020. Furthermore, there was only a 1-percentage-point decline in those finding abortion “morally wrong.” 

Roe v. Wade and support for pro-life laws hinges on poll wording

Second, the poll found that 32 percent of people want the Roe v. Wade decision overturned while 58 percent do not. However, this Gallup poll suffers from the same two problems as nearly every other poll on the Roe v. Wade decision.

First, it does not make it clear that Roe v. Wade effectively legalized abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy — a position supported by a small percentage of Americans. Second, it also does not make it clear that overturning Roe v. Wade would not ban abortion outright, but would instead send the issue back to the states. 

This Gallup poll purportedly shows that there are low levels of support for various pro-life laws. Specifically, only 41 percent favor a ban on abortions after the 18th week of pregnancy and only 38 percent favor a ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.  However, the wording of these questions is poor for pro-lifers.

Previous polls which showed strong support for pro-life laws often made it clear that there are exceptions for the life of the mother. Similarly, other survey questions which showed strong public support for gestational age limits used the phrase “generally illegal.” These Gallup polling questions did not do this.

Gallup instead used the phrase “ban on abortion,” which tends to poll poorly.

Long-term pro-life gains are evident

Media coverage on abortion surveys often focuses on short-term fluctuations in public opinion. However, it is important to note that Gallup surveys consistently show long-term durable gains in pro-life sentiment during the past 25 years. In September 1995, only 33 percent of Americans identified as “pro-life.” Similarly, another Gallup poll conducted in July of 1996 found that only 36 percent of respondents identified as “pro-life.”

Pro-life issues will be very salient this year. As pro-lifers work to defend the Hyde Amendment and Mississippi’s 15-week abortion limit, we should move forward with confidence.  Our educational efforts have paid off and will doubtless continue to do so in the future. 

Michael J. New is a Research Associate at The Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New

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