Polls Show Americans Undecided on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 22, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Polls Show Americans Undecided on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
June 22, 2004

Columbus, OH (LifeNews.com) — An Ohio State University researcher has examined more than 150 polls conducted on the issue of stem cell research. The findings show that Americans are largely undecided and open to information from both proponents and opponents of embryonic stem cell research that involves the destruction of human life.

"Polls show that the public doesn’t know much about the science or the policy surrounding stem cell research, and that means they really haven’t solidified their opinions," said Matthew Nisbet, an assistant professor of journalism and communication at Ohio State.

"The public is at a point where they are probably open to the appeals of both advocates and opponents of stem-cell research," Nisbet said.

Nisbet studied more than 150 polls and his research appears in the current issue of Public Opinion Quarterly.

He said that polls show most Americans have reservations about destroying human life to obtain embryonic stem cells. But their opinions are fluid depending on how the polling questions are worded.

Nisbet cited polls conducted by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), which backs using embryonic stem cells, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which opposes it.

The JDRF poll discusses using extra embryos "donated to research" and the question includes mention of possible cures that detractors say may never see the light of day. Meanwhile, the USCCB poll points out how unborn children are destroyed in their first days of life and mentions that advocates of the research want taxpayer funding for it.

The JDRF poll found that 65 percent of Americans backed embryonic stem cell research, but 70 percent opposed it when asked by the USCCB.

"The fact that the public can be influenced so much by how the questions are worded tells me that Americans are susceptible to be influenced by groups on both sides. It depends on who crafts a message that appeals most to the public," Nisbet said.

Despite the mixed results, Nisbet said his analysis showed that public support overall was strongest for adult stem cell research or embryonic stem cell research only involving frozen embryos that would be destroyed otherwise.

Public support is lowest, he said, for research on human embryos that are cloned specifically so they can be destroyed.

Stem cell research has become a volatile issue since President Bush announced a policy in August 2001 prohibiting federal funding of any new research using embryonic stem cells from unborn children.

The death of former president Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy’s request of the president to reverse his decision, celebrities and politicians pushing for funding using state and federal taxpayer dollars, and the battle between Bush and likely Democratic nominee John Kerry have all propelled the issue to the forefront.

That’s prompting most Americans to examine the issue for the first time.

"The battle is on among both sides to define the issue in terms that will help their cause," Nisbet explained.