More Americans Pro-Life Than “Pro-Choice” in the Last Five Gallup Polls

National   |   Michael New, Ph.D.   |   Jan 26, 2015   |   10:42AM   |   Washington, DC

Ramesh’s comments yesterday on the latest NARAL poll were spot on: the poll, which purports to show strong support for legal abortion in four congressional districts, is deceptive. That NARAL increasingly feels the need to conduct its own polls at all is a striking shift in and of itself. But it’s the change in the questions those polls ask that should really raise eyebrows.

For a long time, when pollsters would ask questions on abortion, the “pro-choice” position would come out comfortably ahead. That changed in May 2009, when for the first time ever, Gallup reported that a majority of respondents identified as “pro-life.” “Pro-life” has actually outpolled “pro-choice” in five of nine Gallup polls since then.

marchforlife39As such, groups like NARAL have had to work harder to claim that there’s broad support for legal abortion. This past August, NARAL released another poll on the subject, one which gave respondents a subtly different set of choices. The alternatives were 1) abortion is morally acceptable and should be legal; 2) personally opposed to abortion, but it should remain legal; and 3) abortion should be illegal.

A plurality of respondents preferred the second option, and NARAL quickly announced that the first and second options combined commanded majority support. Of course, the three questions did not allow for much nuance. Specifically, the poll did not ask about the 20-week abortion ban or other incremental pro-life laws that tend to poll well.

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An important challenge for pro-lifers is to reach out to the middle group of voters who clearly dislike abortion, but are not quite comfortable with making it illegal. Good progress has been made here. Debates over incremental pro-life laws, better messaging, and ultrasound technology have pulled many of these people into the pro-life camp.  But NARAL’s polls show that this middle group is sizeable, and pro-lifers still have important work to do to win them over. Note: Dr. Michael New is a political science professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is a fellow at Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.