NRL News

Looking back on Gallup’s 2017 abortion survey results

by | Jan 2, 2018

By Dave Andrusko

As we’ve explained previously, Gallup annually conducts what it calls its “Values and Beliefs poll” which it then mines for the remainder of the year. Each subsequent post builds on the previous ones.

It’ll be a few months obviously before Gallup publishes its first interpretation for the new year. In anticipation let’s take a look back on the stories NRL News Today wrote about several of Gallup’s abortion stories in 2017 and see what they tell us. Let’s go from most recent to the oldest.

In September we published, “Moral acceptability of abortion varies widely among Protestant denominations, Gallup finds: ‘Mainline’ denominations far more accepting.” This was particularly useful in one respect– it reminded readers that there is no one “Protestant” denomination and that among the many denominations there is a vast difference on abortion

Two additional points. First, according to a different survey published by Gallup in July 2017, there are fewer Protestants that identify with a specific denomination and a growing number of “nones” who don’t have a specific religious identity at all. The fastest growing Protestant “denomination” is the non-denominational.

Barely a quarter of them (26%) find abortion morally acceptable.

Second, as noted in the quote above, this same caution must be exercised when talking about “Catholics.” Their position on the moral acceptability of abortion will vary along many grounds, most specifically how often they attend church.

On August 1, we wrote, “Another dubious interpretation of Gallup’s survey on abortion.” In that post we addressed the story, “On Abortion, Americans Discern Between Immoral and Illegal,” written by Frank Newport and Robert Bird.

The conclusion they want us to reach is that when push comes to shove pro-life people are less “consistent” than pro-abortion people.

They wrote

We combined data from the 2013-2017 surveys and found that almost half of Americans see abortion as morally wrong, with only 20% saying it should be totally illegal.

“That means that almost three in 10 Americans have the combination of attitudes that is our primary focus: viewing abortion as morally wrong but at the same time believing it should remain legal (at least in some circumstances).”

The other group holding contradictory attitudes — that abortion is morally acceptable but should be illegal — is very small (about 2%). Apparently, once Americans have decided that abortion is morally OK, there is little question in their minds that it should be legal.

What other way–more consistent with reality, in my opinion–could you interpret these numbers? That pro-abortionist are more willing to draw out the extremist “logic” of their position, something that is conspicuously absent in Newport’s and Bird’s analysis.

If abortion is morally acceptable, why would you put any limitation on when an abortion could be performed? When it comes to the unborn child, they’ve already decided that there is no there there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.

Those who take a pro-life position believe abortion is morally wrong but a portion believe there are very rare circumstances—typically when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest—when “abortion should be legal.” This is not a position they embrace; it is one to which they come very reluctantly.

But note! Pew Research found very, very different results about the public’s view of abortion’s morality.

“More than four-in-ten Americans (44%) say having an abortion is morally wrong, while 19% think it is morally acceptable and 34% say it is not a moral issue,” Michael Lipka and John Gramlich told us. (Remember Gallup said the figure is 20%.)

What explains such a huge difference? One is the question. Gallup’s is more abstract: is abortion “morally wrong ” or “morally acceptable”?

Pew asks people about whether having an abortion is morally wrong or morally acceptable? More than twice as many people say having an abortion is morally wrong as say it is morally acceptable. This question poses a reality check and people are far less likely to say it is morally acceptable to actually abort a child.

On June 2, we published, “Latest Gallup numbers very encouraging for pro-lifers.” Author Lydia Saad told us

There is no consensus among the American public for making abortion completely legal or illegal. Rather, the largest segment falls in the middle, saying it should be legal but with restrictions. …

This helps explain how the states have been able to pass a vast array of laws limiting when, where and how abortions can be performed. It also sheds light on how citizens can shift from electing a staunchly pro-choice president in Barack Obama to electing an avowed pro-life one in Donald Trump. For most Americans, the issue involves shades of gray, not black and white.

Well, yes, but…

We have long lauded Gallup for changing the way it asks a key question about abortion which gives a nuanced and far more accurate portrait of public opinion. They first ask, “Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?”

We learn 29% say “legal under any circumstances,” 18% say “illegal in all circumstances” and 50% say “legal only under certain circumstances.” That’s where most polling companies stop.

But Gallup then ask the middle group (the 50% who response “legal only under certain circumstances”) “whether those should be most circumstances or only a few, and, by nearly a 3-to-1 ratio, they choose only a few, 36% vs. 13%,” according to Saad.

“Thus, the slight majority of Americans (54%) favor curtailing abortion rights — saying abortion should be illegal or legal in only a few circumstances. Slightly fewer, 42%, want access to abortion to be unrestricted or legal in most circumstances.”

(The 54% is comprised of the 18% who say “illegal in all circumstances” and the 36% who said legal “in only a few circumstances.”) But the overarching point is that a majority of Americans do not accept the reasons 90%-95% of all abortions are performed!

Gallup is correct: that is why pro-life legislation passes and passes and passes. It is in tune with the electorate.

I look forward to Gallup’s 2018 analyses. We will analysis each iteration and tell you what the numbers actually tell us.

Categories: Polling
Tags: Gallup