Monday, May 23, 2011


Two years ago, a Gallup poll showed that more Americans were "pro-life" than "pro-choice" by a 51%-45% margin (the first time there'd ever been more "pro-lifers" than "pro-choicers," according to Gallup).

A lot of people took the results very seriously, speculating that maybe the country was undergoing a cultural shift. I had my doubts because I remembered this about abortion and public opinion, as reported in the L.A. Times in 2000:

Typically when abortion rights are threatened, support for legal abortion rises, according to polling experts.

In the last decade, for example, previous polls show support for Roe peaking at 56% around 1991, when the decision was under attack across the country. Most states had pushed measures through their legislatures that either put strict limits on abortion or even banned it altogether.

In 1992, the Supreme Court issued a decision upholding Roe, with some modifications. The same year, Clinton, an abortion rights supporter, was elected president. Both events appeared to reassure people there would be no dramatic changes in abortion policy. Subsequently, support for Roe began to decline.

In a 1996 poll, 46% of respondents endorsed Roe vs. Wade. By 1999, support had slipped slightly to 43%, the same level as in the current poll.

So if the government seems pro-choice, fence-sitters, not thinking the issue is up for debate, drift into the anti-abortion camp. But if we elect anti-abortion candidates, suddenly those fence-sitters know that they could really lose their abortion rights, and they go back to declaring themselves pro-choice.

Which is exactly what's happening now, after big victories by the GOP and anti-abortion legislative initiatives all over the country:

Americans are closely divided between those calling themselves "pro-choice" and those who are "pro-life," now 49% and 45%, respectively, in Gallup's 2011 update on U.S. abortion attitudes. This is similar to a year ago, when 45% were "pro-choice" and 47% "pro-life." However, it is the first time since 2008 that the "pro-choice" position has had the numerical advantage on this Gallup trend.

Well, of course: the country is pro-choice for the first time since 2008 -- the last year of the last Republican president's term.

Here's the revised chart.

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