Gallup: More Americans Identify as "Pro-Life" Than "Pro-Choice" For First Time

This is only one survey, but it is encouraging all the same. The denial of legal protection to an entire class of human beings is one of the most serious human rights issues of our time. Here’s an excerpt from the article, with some thoughts below:

A new Gallup Poll, conducted May 7-10, finds 51% of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion and 42% “pro-choice.” This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.

Gallup1

Not surprisingly, support for the almost unrestricted access to abortion in this country provided for by Roe/Casey is also near a historical low:

Gallup-legality

I have a few initial, more political, thoughts about this:

1) The study (and others) suggests that, for all the caterwauling about the ‘excesses’ and ‘extremism’ of the pro-life movement from certain quarters, the movement (combined with sonograms and fourth grade biology) does appear to be effectively increasing pro-life sentiment. This is an impressive accomplishment given elite disdain for pro-lifers and the current state of the law under Roe/Casey.

2) The claim that the Republican party needs to drop the pro-life platform to attract voters is becoming less persuasive by the day (not that it was ever particularly persuasive).

3) If these numbers are duplicated in other polls, it suggests the country may eventually move towards a level of abortion restriction more consonant with the views of its citizens. Granted, the view of one extreme has been the law of the land for the last thirty-five years, but I think a majority could be a significant tipping point. If politicians (including those on our nation’s courts) think there is more suppport for abortion restrictions than not, I would predict movement in that direction.

27 Responses to Gallup: More Americans Identify as "Pro-Life" Than "Pro-Choice" For First Time

  • I’m going to put the comment I left on this same survey at Inside Catholic here.

    Of course it is always encouraging to see pro-life numbers on the increase.

    The problem is that these numbers tell us nothing about what is likely to happen in the future. Not only can one be ‘personally’ pro-life and politically pro-choice – one can even be politically pro-life, in theory, and have higher priorities than abortion.

    I suspect this is a major reason why, in spite of such numbers, there aren’t enough pro-life politicians to push through a serious pro-life agenda. When was the last time abortion ranked anywhere near the top of the list? Not any time recently, if this list of polls can be trusted:

    http://tiny.cc/wQPX6

    Time and again, the economy is at the top of the list, and abortion, when it even makes the list, is at the bottom (you may have to scroll down to see some of those polls). Given these priorities, it makes no difference if one is pro-life or pro-choice. The status quo wins.

    As some have suggested in a discussion over the plausibility of a pro-life Democratic campaign at American Catholic, we basically need a pro-life Obama – someone who people will vote for on the economy, who also happens to be pro-life. It doesn’t need to be the Obama brand of neo-Keyensianism, but it had better not be laissez-faire, give the top .01% a massive tax cut supply-side nonsense either.

    In the end, the average hedonistic American has his priorities, and we have ours. If ours are important to us, and we are in the minority, then we have to find a way to attach our priority to the majority. The pro-choice lobby isn’t that strong. If abortion is a low priority for Americans, radical feminist ideology barely registers. Give them the choice between ‘guy whose economic policies I like, and who is pro-life’ and ‘guy whose economic policies I don’t like, but who is for a woman’s right to choose’ and the contest is over.

  • I agree to a certain extent, Joe, but with the following caveats (disagreements are more interesting anyway):

    1) I think you overstate the importance of the economy. While any time we are in a severe recession the economy takes precedence, the 2000 and 2004 elections really had very little to do with the economy. When we aren’t in a recession, other policies can matter an awful lot, and politicians generally try to cobble together an attractive menu of positions. The level of pro-life sentiment is important in shaping politicians views. If, like Tim, you want to see pro-life Democrats, well then one of the most likely ways for that to happen is for a majority of Americans to be pro-life.

    2) Some judges are heavily influenced by opinion polls. Justice Kennedy is a good example; he changed his mind on overturning Roe at the last minute, but he upheld the popular Partial Birth Abortion Ban. As Constitutional Law scholar Michael Klarman observed, “Any court on which Justice Kennedy is the median voter will never do anything to provoke dramatic backlashes.” On these and other issues, his opinions seem to track neatly with public opinion polls.

    3) Additionally, your assertion that “the pro-choice lobby isn’t that strong,” is simply false, at least with regard to the Democratic party. Name a prominent Democrat who says they are pro-life, and is willing to vote against their party on judicial nominees or even on something less significant like the Mexico City Policy. The pro-choice lobby is extremely influential in the most influential party in the country, and the status quo is in their favor; I’d say they are operating from a position of strength.

  • It’s fun to disagree. As long as you’re not E. I’d rather go to the dentist in that case.

    1a) The economy is always somewhere near the top. And in an economic system with a boom-bust cycle, you never know when it is going to be at the top.

    1b) But even if it were nowhere near the top, abortion rarely is. The real point here is that an affirmation of the pro-life position doesn’t necessarily translate into a prioritization of that position. This time it was the economy, next time it may be something else. Strategies must be formulated accordingly.

    2) I don’t know if that fact makes me cringe or not. Opinion polls can’t always be trusted. I just pointed out one reason why. But hey, if a judge wants to misread to poll to our advantage, that’s alright by me.

    3) I wasn’t speaking in regards to the Democratic Party. What “is” the party? If it is the party politicians and functionaries, you have a point. If it includes registered Democrats, the power of the point diminishes. If it includes all people who might be inclined to vote Democratic, it is irrelevant.

    Party loyalty and even basic party identification is diminishing. People didn’t vote for a Democrat, they voted for Obama. The average voter doesn’t give a rats behind what Planned Parenthood thinks. Sync up pro-life politics with whatever their concern is at the moment, and you will have a pro-life victory. That’s how Casey won PA. A real pro-life candidate could do it too.

    The point is, they have no real power or influence over the American voter. Let them huff and puff. They know as well as we ought to know that the battle over abortion will always take a backseat to some other issue for most Americans. With things the way they are now, and are likely to be for some time to come, its going to stay in the backseat, maybe even the trunk, indefinitely.

    The good news is that means they will let their guard down. 2010, mid-terms, lets get guys like Tim on the ballot in districts where there are pro-choice Democrats or Republicans, promoting a pro-worker, pro-family, pro-second amendment agenda.

  • Though obviously polls can deviate a bit based on sample, it seems like an encouraging point in that it shows people prefer the “pro-life” label.

    The challenge will to be to come up with a pro-life agenda which can successfully capture this sentiment, which I would imagine is in many cases a rather soft sentiment and not ready for bruising clashes.

  • John Henry,

    I like this bit: fourth grade biology.

    Hilarious!

    DarwinCatholic,

    Yes, a pro-life agenda is needed to capture this sentiment.

  • I love seeing Prof. Klarman quoted.
    ;-)

  • Yeah, he was my 1L con law prof. Great guy. I was sorry we lost him to Harvard.

  • I didn’t realize he had left UVA. That’s bad news.

    For the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone would leave the cozy confines and laid-back atmosphere of “Whithers High” for snooty Cambridge.

  • Agreed, although Klarman is an ardent Red Sox fan; love for Fenway can make people irrational. Plus, I think his kids were heading off to college so it was a good time to make the move.

    Did you know Stephen Smith ’92? I think he was there around the same time as you; he’s leaving for Notre Dame this year. I’m sad to see him go, but glad that Notre Dame is attracting high-quality Catholic faculty.

  • Yeah, Steve and I are friends (although, since moving to Ohio, I’ve been out of touch with him for a few years). We got to know each other in the Federalist Society when we were at UVA together.

    I hate to see him leave UVA as well, but if he has to go somewhere, I’m glad it’s Notre Dame. One more good guy (solid Catholic, a member of the K of C, and politically conservative) on the faculty will go a long way.

  • My favorite Steve Smith story:

    Shortly after Justice Thomas was confirmed, the UVA Federalist Society went to visit the Supreme Court for oral arguments and to have an audience with the newly minted Justice.

    Justice Thomas was still vocally bitter about the confirmation hearings, especially the racial component of his being unacceptable because he was a black conservative. The Justice saw Steve amongst our group and told him how glad he was to see a “young brother” who could think for himself, and told him to look him up if he was ever interested in clerking.

    Of course, Steve went on to clerk for Justice Thomas after he graduated.

  • Small world. I didn’t realize you and Prof. Smith knew each other. He is a student favorite; I had dinner with him a few weeks ago as part of a conservative group at the law school. Very funny and insightful guy.

    I hadn’t heard the Justice Thomas story, although it’s not surprising that he stood out in a crowd; he and his sons (also tall) are hard to miss at Mass.

  • His height, yes, as well as the fact that he was the only African-American in a group of mostly white conservatives and libertarians. Given what Justice Thomas had just gone through, I’d have been surprised if he hadn’t noticed Steve (and seen him as a kindred spirit) in that particular setting.

  • Yes, that was an ugly, ugly confirmation battle, and it’s not surprising that Justice Thomas noticed Prof. Smith in a group of Fed Soc students – of course, Prof. Smith’s excellent credentials (law review, order of the coif, etc.) certainly didn’t hurt his SCOTUS clerkship chances either. It is tough to be a conservative African-American.

    During the Dartmouth Board of Trustees battles a couple years ago, I read articles which devoted several paragraphs to describing his selection as a huge setback to campus efforts for diversity and inclusiveness (because he was conservative); curiously omitted from the narrative was the fact that Prof. Smith was himself African-American and had a fairly inspiring personal story.

  • In my humble opinion, Steve Smith and his fellow Federalist Society, Law Review, and Order of the Coif cohort, Adam Pritchard (now at U. of Michigan), were the most intelligent people with whom I went to law school. And I say that not to take anything away from people like Laura Ingraham, Prof. Todd Zywicki, etc.

    I apologize that I’ve taken this thread off track, but I’ve certainly enjoyed having done so.

  • “I apologize that I’ve taken this thread off track…”

    Not at all. I’ve enjoyed it as well, and, for once, I’m taking one of my own threads off track rather than someone else’s. ;-)

    I didn’t realize that Todd Zywicki, Adam Pritchard, and Laura Ingraham went to UVA. It will be interesting to see who goes where in the next twenty years…

  • Hey, I don’t mind either but I also wouldn’t mind continuing our friendly disagreement :)

  • I heard this poll mentioned at the end of a drive-time newsbreak on one of the local radio stations in Springfield today… could be getting some MSM attention soon.

    Gallup says one explanation for the shift could be that the sharp leftward turn in Obama’s policies have moved what most people think of as “pro-choice” farther to the left. IOW, “real” pro-choicers believe in virtually unrestricted abortion, and those who think abortion is morally wrong and favor at least some restrictions (no partial birth, no taxpayer funding, etc.) are starting to think of themselves as more pro-life than pro-choice.

    While we may think of them as the “mushy middle” and not consider them truly pro-life, politically speaking, they will probably be the key to reversing or at least halting the damage now being done by the Obama administration and a liberal Supreme Court.

    Still, it appears that the number of people who think abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances” is up slightly as well.

  • Notice also the really significant shift toward pro-life since the early to mid 1990s, which some observers attribute to the publicity surrounding partial-birth abortion. In some ways, the partial-birth controversy turned out to be a blessing in disguise for pro-lifers as it called attention to just how gruesome the method (and by extension, all abortions) really was. Perhaps the various Obama-related controversies (Mexico City policy revocation, the threat of FOCA, Canon 915, Notre Dame scandal) have had a similar effect.

  • Being a black conservative is difficult.

    The same can be said of latino conservatives (I don’t care what we’re called, I’d prefer to be called a Castillian-Portuguese-Mexican, but that’s my axe to grind… and mock Politically-Correct liberals).

    The name-calling from the hispanics on the left are downright rude and inappropriate. The b*%$ing sessions amongst active latino conservatives concerning how their treated by latino liberals that I witness really paint most liberals (at least in the city of Houston) in the political arena in a very bad light. The vitriol and hate is disturbing.

    Sorry to jump in the thread that way, but I had to let it out to show our “superior”, “tolerant”, and “open-minded” liberals how demeaning they can be.

  • Hey, I don’t mind either but I also wouldn’t mind continuing our friendly disagreement

    Apologies, Joe. I owe you a response – it will have to wait an hour or two, but I will respond soon.

  • 3) I wasn’t speaking in regards to the Democratic Party. What “is” the party? If it is the party politicians and functionaries, you have a point. If it includes registered Democrats, the power of the point diminishes. If it includes all people who might be inclined to vote Democratic, it is irrelevant.

    Well, from a pro-life perspective, what I care about is how the pro-choice lobby is able to influence policy and judicial appointments. And, along those lines, I find your assertion that “the pro-choice lobby isn’t that strong” puzzling. There is a pro-choice litmus test for any prominent national Democratic politician. Is there any doubt that Obama’s SCOTUS nominee will be a strong pro-choicer? That is the type of influence that matters in the legal/political realm, and it seems to me the pro-choice lobby is very influential from that perspective.

    Party loyalty and even basic party identification is diminishing.

    I think your assertion that party loyalty is diminishing is unsupported by the evidence. If anything, party identification is hardening. It’s difficult to imagine a better recipe for a landslide defeat than the 2008 election (unpopular incumbent, unpopular war, crashing economy), and Obama’s margin of victory was around 6%. Contrast that with Reagan’s 18% margin of victory in 1984, and consider the close elections in 2000 and 2004, and it’s hard to conclude party loyalty is waning.

    People didn’t vote for a Democrat, they voted for Obama. The average voter doesn’t give a rats behind what Planned Parenthood thinks. Sync up pro-life politics with whatever their concern is at the moment, and you will have a pro-life victory. That’s how Casey won PA. A real pro-life candidate could do it too.

    I agree that an attractive spokesperson is essential for the success of any party, and many voters aren’t going to base their vote on abortion. That does not necessarily mean, however, that public opinion polls are unimportant; they have a very real effect on the bundle of policies politicians use to market themselves, and, as I suggested above, judicial, journalistic, and academic perceptions of the popular will.

    The point is, they have no real power or influence over the American voter.

    Again, I would say a lobbying group doesn’t need influence over voters if they have a litmus test veto over national candidates; the NRA doesn’t control voters – no lobbyist does directly. To influence policy it’s sufficient to have an institutional presence, and the support of a vocal portion (and preferably large) of the party’s base. As the pro-choice lobby has both of these things, they are quite influential.

    Let them huff and puff. They know as well as we ought to know that the battle over abortion will always take a backseat to some other issue for most Americans. With things the way they are now, and are likely to be for some time to come, its going to stay in the backseat, maybe even the trunk, indefinitely.

    Well, that’s certainly not the case with judicial appointments (the most significant legal/political tool for protecting the unborn), and possibly not for conscience protections and perhaps some of the more palatable components of FOCA, if they are enacted piecemeal. I am not sure in what sense it’s ‘staying in the trunk’ when the pro-choice lobby is basically checking off the wish-list items it has received and is likely to receive from the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats.

    The good news is that means they will let their guard down. 2010, mid-terms, lets get guys like Tim on the ballot in districts where there are pro-choice Democrats or Republicans, promoting a pro-worker, pro-family, pro-second amendment agenda.

    As I’ve said before, I would love for this to happen. It would be great to have pro-lifers in both parties, and even better to have some legitimate pro-life European style-social democrats; nevertheless, I think the reality is that the pro-choice lobby is very effective in establishing litmus tests, that the Democratic base, by and large, is heavily pro-choice, and that these factors provide the pro-choice lobby with a lot of influence.

  • John,

    I don’t think we should mistake political polarization for party polarization. It’s similar but not identical. Obama’s 6% is considerably larger than either margin Bush won, and not much smaller than the ones Clinton commanded. The country has become more polarized since Reagan, so I don’t think you can go that far back for a comparison for today.

    Bottom line is, I think people voted for a man, and against the GOP.

    As for the power of the pro-choice machine, again, I want to restate that it depends on what level of the process we are talking about. Holding the levers of power is one thing; winning the hearts of the people is another. I think there are enough people who would vote for a pro-life Democrat to make the abortion lobby irrelevant. I think that is why Casey won, and why any pro-life Dem could stand a chance. The key is to have the people driving the process, like they did for Howard Dean, like they did for Obama, instead of letting the party grandees control everything.

    Call it my instinct. If you have a pro-life Dem promising pro-worker economic reforms, relief for families and expecting mothers, second amendment rights, and other issues near and dear to the hearts of the American worker, no one is going to care what NARAL says. No one. You will hear the crickets chirping. The voters are who count. The voters elect people who appoint judges and form policy.

    The DNC wants to win. It is a party machine first, an ideological apparatus only second, like any other political party. Parties shift all the time. Sometimes slowly, sometimes more quickly. They shift because they want to survive, they shift under pressure. At the start we may have to rely on more grassroots means of support, but a few victories will convince the national party of the merits of pro-life Dem candidates. Pragmatism will trump radical feminist ideology and pro-life Dems will emerge in greater numbers. It could happen.

    I meant, also, ‘in the trunk’ for voters, as long as the economy is as bad as it is.

    In the end if you want to change the status quo you have to win the support of the people, not judges and party grandees. And it is among the people that the abortion lobby has less influence. The key is to find districts where a pro-life Dem could more easily defeat an incumbent Republican than a pro-choice Dem, and go to town.

  • Another thing this poll indicates to me is that when some “teachable moment” occurs that forces people to seriously think about abortion — instead of simply ignoring the issue as most do during times of war, economic crisis, etc., — a distinct shift toward pro-life usually takes place.

    My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that most people who don’t take the abortion issue seriously, who haven’t studied it or been taught anything about it one way or the other, or who prefer not to think about it at all, will say they are pro-choice, simply because it sounds good to them. After all, having a choice is always a good thing, right? It is only when they are confronted with the true nature of the “choice” they are defending that some (not all) will reconsider their position.

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