Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 6, 2009

A SHIFT BACK ON ABORTION RIGHTS?.... In mid-May, Gallup released a poll that found 51% of Americans calling themselves "pro-life" and 42% "pro-choice." It was the first time a majority of U.S. adults had identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking the question, and the nine-point margin was easily the largest lead opponents of abortion rights have seen.

About a month ago, MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski pointed to these numbers as evidence that "real" Americans approve of Sarah Palin. "Look at where people stand on life," Brzezinski said. "Look what real Americans think."


I guess fake Americans are making a comeback. A new report from Gallup shows the pro-life lead evaporating since the last poll, dropping from nine points to one, 47% to 46%.

The Gallup report on these results suggests that it's possible public attitudes shifted in the wake of the George Tiller assassination. Maybe, but it seems even more likely to me that the May results, showing "pro-life" identification with a nine-point edge, were just an outlier. There were no reasons -- political, demographic, or otherwise -- to explain that kind of dramatic one-year shift, and it's not surprising that the numbers quickly shifted back within a couple of months. Once in a while, when poll results seem wrong, it's because they are wrong.

Generally speaking, there just aren't significant shifts on this. Most Americans oppose a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortions, and that hasn't changed. Most Americans want to see the Supreme Court leave the Roe v. Wade precedent intact, and that hasn't changed, either. This matters far more than ambiguous labels like "pro-choice" and "pro-life."

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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As I said previously I know who my hero is in the George Tiller incident.

And it's not George Tiller.

Posted by: Myke K on August 6, 2009 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

I always turn to Mika Brzezinski when I want hard hitting factual news. The view from her penthouse apartment on Park allows her to see "Real" Americans.

Posted by: John R on August 6, 2009 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

There's a very simple explanation for this. There was one outlier. Abortion opinion has been VERY stable and one out of twenty polls gives a figure outside of the margin of error.

It was an OUTLIER.

Posted by: Amy on August 6, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

I think polling on these sort of vague labels is pointless. As I discovered recently, both of my parents are "pro-life" Catholics who are firmly against abortion; yet in separate discussions with them individually, neither of them felt comfortable with the idea of making it illegal. In fact, my dad refused to believe that this was the stated platform of the Republican Party or the Catholic Church. And while neither of them would outright say that they DIDN'T think it should be illegal, they both weaseled around and kept describing situations that were more clean cut; like third-term abortions and whatnot. But when it came to actual jail time for doctors or women, they just kept changing the subject.

I think the real issue here is that lots of people just like the phrase "pro-life," because it sounds so positive and don't like abortions. I mean, who wants to be against life? Similarly, I think many people like the sound of the word "conservative," yet actually support most government programs. And that's the biggest problem for Republicans and their phrase-based rhetoric: For as much as they use language to trick people to support them, the support often doesn't go any deeper than the phrases they're using.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on August 6, 2009 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

I certainly hope it was an outlier.
I never underestimate The American Taliban and their media cohort's.

And what ever happenen to Mika? In the beginning she was actually pretty good at times. Now, it's like she's suffering from battered spouse complex. "Yes, dear... Whatever you say, dear..."
I think an intervention is in order.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on August 6, 2009 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

The label "pro-life" is ambiguous.

I consider myself pro-life, but I also believe in a woman's right to an abortion. I just don't consider a 3-month old fetus, let alone a fertilized egg, to be "life".

But since so many people self-identify as pro-life, why aren't Democrats making health care reform more of a "pro-life" issue? They should be hammering on the fact that studies estimate that about 18,000 Americans die early each year because they lack health coverage.


And to make the argument provocative enough to be covered by the corporate-controlled media, prominent Democrats need to say out loud that it looks like Republicans believe that human life is sacred, but only if it doesn't interfere with corporate profits or tax cuts for millionaires.

Posted by: SteveT on August 6, 2009 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

ARCHAEOLOGIST #1: Interesting. It appears just before their civilization collapsed, they were obsessed with polls, birth certificates and someone named Sarah Palin.

ARCHAEOLOGIST #2: Who was she?

ARCHAEOLOGIST #1: I'm not sure, but apparently she was considered a "real American."

Posted by: Speed on August 6, 2009 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Please mention this in your next free broadcast:

Murdoch signals end of free news

I like the sentence that says that quality journalism is not cheap.

Posted by: anonymous on August 6, 2009 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Generally speaking, there just aren't significant shifts on this."

Uh, it's kind of weird to say that when your own graph shows a significant jump from the low to mid 30s up to the low to mid 40s over the course of 3 years, an increase that then persists for a decade.


Posted by: MBunge on August 6, 2009 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

can someone help me spell the word stooooopid .....

Posted by: Myke K on August 6, 2009 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

well, stormskies finally rolled out of bed

Posted by: on August 6, 2009 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK
"Look at where people stand on life," [said MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski] ...

That's the myth. The reality is:

But please, whatever you do, don't look at where the GOP actually stands on life -- if you do, you'll quickly find we're not really for it at all, which is why we support the death penalty and never-ending war in countries I'm too stupid to find on a map.

Sadly, Mika won't actually say that on the teevee ... because it's true.

Posted by: Mark D on August 6, 2009 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

I think a lot of it has to do with the vagueness of the labels used to describe people on both sides of the issue.

Both I and many of my friends are BOTH pro-choice AND pro-life....i.e. we would not choose to have an abortion should we or our spouses get pregnant, but we also believe that such as decision should be made by the individuals involved, and not by the government.

Posted by: mfw13 on August 6, 2009 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, many of us do not accept the term "fake American". Since our major crime is a love of culture, I prefer the term "surreal American."

Posted by: mlm on August 6, 2009 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

I've looked at the polling data over 30 years. There's no significant change in the number of people who are opposed to abortion under all circumstances, those who think it should be permissible under all circumstances, and the steady majority who say "it depends." All of this hoopla has changed no one's opinion. I wish I had a cite, but I've actually got work to do.

Also, Mika Brzezinski is a joke. She is the Ed McMahon of news coverage, simply there to mug and look pretty in response to whatever Joe is saying.

Posted by: Travis on August 6, 2009 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

This is just another example of the triumph of right-wing branding. No one is "pro-death." Ask the same question without the Republican-approved labels and you would see much higher support for a women's right to control her own body. For that matter, ask people what they think of the "death tax" and what they think of the "estate tax" and you will get different numbers.

Posted by: bobbo on August 6, 2009 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

MBunge beat me to the punch. On the very graph accompanying the article, you see a swing from 56-33 to (my approximation) 48-44 in a two year period. That's lurching from a 23 point margin to around 4 points.

I'm not sure how you can reconcile that with a statment like "Generally speaking, there just aren't significant shifts on this."

Posted by: TG Chicago on August 6, 2009 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think this was an outlier either. More likely is it was temporary backlash against the deomcrats being in complete power for the first time in a while. Compare the graph to who was in control of what during the time and it seems like a relative fit, at least as far back as the graph goes.

Posted by: Nautilator on August 6, 2009 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

Yet teachers are seldom asked to study the language they teach or how its form carries its message. ,

Posted by: Ganry25 on October 22, 2009 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK



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