Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pro-lifers gain a slight majority

Gallup has released a poll showing that a slight majority of Americans now self-identify as "pro-life." This has never happened since Gallup started polling this issue back in 1995.

I was curious about why this happened, and Gallup has some interesting theories. They point out that over the past year the number of Republicans self-identifying as "pro-life" has increased by 10%, whereas Democrats haven't shifted much on the issue. They offer this explanation:
"With the first pro-choice president in eight years already making changes to the nation's policies on funding abortion overseas, expressing his support for the Freedom of Choice Act, and moving toward rescinding federal job protections for medical workers who refuse to participate in abortion procedures, Americans -- and, in particular, Republicans -- seem to be taking a step back from the pro-choice position. However, the retreat is evident among political moderates as well as conservatives.

It is possible that, through his abortion policies, Obama 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."
It's an interesting short-run analysis, but what I'm interested in is the long-run. The fact is, Gallup polling shows that there has been a roughly steady shift over the past 14 years toward the pro-life side. What does this mean?

One thing that makes these data complicated to analyze is that political orientation also changes over time, just as views on specific issues do. So it's not really sound to say, "Liberals didn't change their views on this." Maybe there are people out there who used to identify as liberal, but then changed their position on abortion, and so now they guess they're politically moderate, even though their basic outlook has remained the same in a lot of ways. You get the idea.

In any case, even if liberals really haven't budged on this issue (20% of them still identify as pro-life, by the way), moderates surely have (45% pro-life, up from 38% last year), and it really doesn't make sense to me to explain this using Barack Obama. For whatever reason (I can think of a couple), Obama is attractive to a lot of moderates (even Republicans), and I just don't see them becoming more pro-life because they're turned off by his political agenda.

What's most significant, in my opinion, is the shift in views on the actual question of when abortion should be legal. Some people have strange definitions of "pro-life" and "pro-choice," but there's no denying what these data mean:
  • Last year, 28% of Americans said abortion should be legal in all circumstances. This year, only 22% said so.
  • Last year, only 17% of Americans said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. This year, 23% said so.
This represents a clear shift in actual opinion among Americans, not just a shift in self-labeling. In order to explain this, I just don't think you can deny the power of peaceful vigils like 40 Days for Life, the passionate presence of Students for Life of America, or the compassionate work of Feminists for Life.

I think the bottom line is, pro-lifers on the ground are getting it done, changing opinions with facts, with passion, and with compassion. Folks like Planned Parenthood are getting so desperate as to call for days of protest against charitable organizations that give women free resources for pregnancy and parenting. It's kind of sad.

Ideally, people would stop seeing this as a war between pro-life and pro-choice. But, as Barack Obama so tactfully pointed out at his Notre Dame graduation speech, "at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable." Maybe pro-lifers really do just have to keep fighting to make themselves heard. The evidence shows it's working.

1 comment:

  1. hmm very interesting! this gives me hope as a prolifer! :)


I love to hear feedback!