Michael J. New: Americans’ Views on Abortion Are Not Set in Stone

Writing for Mother Jones, Kevin Drum takes issue with my Corner post from earlier this week on the recent Gallup survey showing a short-term increase in Americans who describe themselves as “pro-life.” Drum notes that Gallup’s own analysis of the survey states, “Little has changed over the past year, or even over the past 10 years, in Americans’ basic outlook on abortion.” He also argues that public opinion toward life issues has remained fairly constant since the 1970s, concluding that “nothing is changing, and there’s no special reason to think it ever will.”

Drum’s analysis contains a few key flaws. For one thing, Gallup and other research groups are not always objective analysts of public-opinion trends, and they don’t always choose the best questions to accurately represent and quantify the complexity of public attitudes on abortion. Pollsters frequently ask about attitudes toward the Roe v. Wade decision, the responses to which make it appear as if Americans are more supportive of legal abortion than they are based on their responses to other questions. Polling groups nearly always ask respondents to identify as either “pro-life” or “pro-choice” — and up until ten years ago “pro-choice” nearly always outpolled “pro-life” — but they ask questions about incremental pro-life policies, such as limiting late-term abortions, considerably less often. Those types of policies tend to receive broad public support.

Meanwhile, it’s important to note how the politics and policy of abortion have changed considerably over the last 45 years, so it’s not easy to compare public attitudes today with public opinion in the 1970s. Instead, public opinion beginning in the early 1990s is an important benchmark, because it was an historic low point for the pro-life movement. In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and failed to overturn Roe v. Wade. Later that year, Bill Clinton, who supported legal abortion, was elected president. Polls showed that the pro-life position was losing ground in the court of public opinion, and many on the right called for the Republican party to abandon its platform plank opposing abortion. Some Republicans believed that pro-choice GOP governors such as Bill Weld, Christine Todd Whitman, and Pete Wilson were the future of the party.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael J. New

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