Amidst the political setbacks for the right-to-life movement, maybe the worst since the 1970s, the Gallup Poll reports that 51 percent of Americans call themselves "pro-life" on the issue of abortion; 42 percent are "pro-choice."
"This is the first time a majority of adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995," says Lydia Saad, writing for the Gallup organization on its website.
These results are derived from Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey. According to Saad, "they represent a significant shift from a year ago, when 50% were pro-choice and 44% were pro-life. Prior to now, the highest percentage identifying as pro-life was 46%, in both August 2001 and May 2002."
The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent, but in terms of the direction and overall shift, these are remarkable numbers given the ambient political environment which is hostile to the cause of the unborn, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Gallup interviewed 1,013 national adults, aged 18 and older, May 7-10.
In terms of the legal issues implicated by abortion, "about as many Americans now say the procedure should be illegal in all circumstances (23%) as say it should be legal under any circumstances (22%)." Saad claims this contrasts with the past four years, "when Gallup found a strong tilt of public attitudes in favor of unrestricted abortion."
The majority of Americans occupy what Saad calls "the middle option" with 53% saying "abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances" (emphasis added).
Saad also cites a recent national survey by the Pew Research Center recorded an eight percentage-point decline since last August in those saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases, from 54 to 46 percent. The percentages for those saying abortion should be legal in only a few or no cases increased from 41 to 44 percent during the same period.
Saad notes that the percentage of Republicans, including independents leaning Republican, calling themselves "pro-life rose by 10 points over the past year, from 60 to 70 percent. "There was essentially no change in the views of Democrats and Democratic leaners…all of the increase in pro-life sentiment is seen among self-identified conservatives and moderates; the abortion views of political liberals have not changed," says Saad.
Other findings of interest include the following:
There has been an eight-point gain among Protestants and a seven-point gain among Catholics in terms of identifying themselves as pro-life.
While women used to call themselves pro-choice over pro-life a year ago (50 versus 43 percent), today women as well as men are more likely to be pro-life. So much for the gender gap on the life issues-at least for now. Again, Saad writes that "this is the first time in nine years of Gallup Values surveys that significantly more men and women are pro-life than pro-choice."
What is the reason for the change in these polling numbers? Saad speculates that it is possible that President Obama, "through his abortion policies…has pushed the public's understanding of what it means to be 'pro-choice' slightly to the left, politically."
"While Democrats may support that, as they generally support everything Obama is doing as president, it may be driving others in the opposite direction."
Maybe President Obama, with his keen political instincts, detects this shift in opinion. If so, it is no accident that, at his recent press conference, he made it clear that passage of the Freedom of Choice Act was not his top legislative priority. Moreover, he has, quite shrewdly, stayed out of the controversy over his honorary degree at Notre Dame.
While such small, nuanced changes in the President's political position on the life issues are hardly grounds to celebrate, it is bracing to see the majority of Americans opting for the culture of life during these unsettled times.