Discussion: (6 comments)
Comments are closed.
For more than a decade, AEI has published a compilation of polls on abortion around the time of the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade (1973) decision. This AEI Public Opinion Study is the most comprehensive collection available of public opinion surveys on abortion, examining virtually every aspect of the issue, including public views on repealing Roe, restrictions on the use of abortion, the circumstances under which legal abortion should be permitted, and the morality of abortion. This year, the 44th anniversary of the decision, we have added two new sections. The first continues our work on polls on abortion during presidential campaigns, and the second looks at a handful of questions that have been asked over 30 years on Supreme Court nominees and abortion. The collection reveals two essential properties of public opinion writ large – enormous stability of attitudes alongside deep contradictions in people’s views.
In the 44 years since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade (1973), pollsters have asked hundreds of questions about abortion. This AEI Public Opinion Study brings many of those questions together in one place. It shows how different pollsters have approached the subject.
Opinion on abortion has been very stable. Between 1975 and 2016, Gallup has asked the identical question on the legality of abortion more than fifty times. In 1975, 21 percent said abortion should be legal under all circumstances, 54 percent legal only under certain circumstances, and 22 percent illegal in all circumstances.
Those responses in Gallup’s May 2016 poll were similar: 29, 50, and 19 percent, respectively. This constancy of opinion is evident in many questions in this document.
Although opinion about abortion is stable, it is also deeply ambivalent. Americans are simultaneously pro-life and pro-choice. Substantial numbers of people tell the pollsters that abortion is an act of murder. They also say that the decision to have an abortion should be a personal choice. Those two views are fundamentally contradictory, yet many Americans hold them simultaneously. They see no reason to resolve the tensions in their own positions. They believe in the sanctity of life as well as in the importance of individual choice.
Most Americans do not want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. At the same time, however, they are willing to put some restrictions on abortion. Majorities of Americans favor notification of spouses, parental consent, and 24-hour waiting periods. They support first-term abortions, but oppose second- and third-trimester ones. They oppose public funding.
Ninety percent of Americans told Los Angeles Times interviewers in 2000 that they had never been active in the abortion debate. Between 1980 and 2000, in every presidential election, abortion was included in the list of issues people could pick as a top issue (or one of the issues for them) in casting their presidential ballot. In each of these presidential contests, these single-issue voters cast their ballots for the Republican presidential candidate. In 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016, the national exit pollsters did not include abortion as a category people could check as their top issue. In 2004, the Los Angeles Times did include the category “social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.” We have not included that question in this document.
In the past few years, the abortion issue has received an enormous amount of media attention in elections, legislatures, and the courts. In 2015, a still unresolved debate over federal funding for Planned Parenthood took the national political stage. In June 2016, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that two provisions in a Texas law placed an undue burden on women seeking access to an abortion. Thus far, this attention does not seem to have had a significant effect on public opinion. No more than one percent in the past five years has told Gallup interviewers that it is the most important issue facing the country. When Gallup last asked this open-ended question in December 2016, 12 percent volunteered the economy and, separately, race relations/racism, and 9 percent said the unemployment/jobs and, separately, dissatisfaction with government/poor leadership. A negligible percent mentioned abortion. We have not included this trend in this document. While many people feel passionately about the issue, the vast majority remain deeply conflicted and unwilling to be drawn into the controversies about it.
Comments are closed.
1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036
© 2017 American Enterprise Institute