I had someone make the argument that US public opinion wasn’t entirely liberal because of some recent Gallup poll supposedly showing decreasing support for pro-choice. I should point out that I’d never make the argument that Americans don’t hold any conservative-leaning opinions. However, a single poll doesn’t dismiss years of polls that show a reliable pattern. I don’t know if this particular poll is meaningful, but it’s obviously meaningless if looked upon in isolation from the context of all other available data. Looking at various data and commentary, here are some thoughts I had:
Pro-choice and pro-life are like liberal and conservative. They are labels closely connected with identity politics. But labels don’t necessarily reflect specific opinions. Most Americans identify as conservative. But most Americans are becoming more socially liberal. The confusion comes from changing meaning of labels. Also, most Americans remain in the middle of the spectrum even as the spectrum is shifting left.
The younger generation is more socially liberal than any generation before. But the data I saw on abortion opinions of younger generation is mixed. It wouldn’t be surprising if the younger generation wants more regulation of late term abortions. The younger generation likes government regulation in general. That doesn’t, however, mean they are anti-choice.
There isn’t a contradiction between government guaranteeing abortion rights and regulating the practice of abortion.
Pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-abortion.
Pro-life doesn’t mean anti-abortion.
These labels are confusing and emotionally charged, maybe to the point of being useless.
Most Democrats are moderates in being more supportive of compromise than Republicans. Democrats, unlike Republicans, are supportive of government even when the opposing party is in power. Maybe it’s to be expected that support for abortion rights will go down slightly during Democratic administrations.
Most importantly, the statistical differences may not even be significant.
Despite fluctuations, support for abortion rights has been fairly stable for many years. Polling is complex and often misleading, but patterns across polls are more reliable. Demographic differences and shifts are more significant in determining patterns.
As far as I can tell:
- Most Americans support abortion rights.
- Most Americans don’t want to repeal Roe vs Wade.
- Most Americans support either complete free choice or limited choice for women.
- Most Americans who support pro-choice also support some degree of regulation.
- A very small minority of Americans are against abortion rights and are for repealing Roe vs Wade.
As an example of the complexity, data shows that there isn’t even an anti-abortion consensus among Christians, only one Christian demographic showing a strong majority:
Christian Opinion On Abortion
Source: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, “Fewer Are Angry at Government, But discontent Remains High,” March 2011
Credit: Julia Ro/NPR
If anyone wants to look beyond mere ideology in order to understand the complexity of the issues, let me provide links to various data and commentary: