Political Animal


May 23, 2012 9:58 AM Can You Say “Outlier?”

By Ed Kilgore

One of the Gallup’s many longitudinal surveys asks Americans if they consider themselves “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” It’s a question of limited significance if not backed up by definitions (Who’s against “choice?” Who’s against “life?”), but perhaps still an interesting measurement of “brands.”
The last time Gallup conducted this survey, in July of last year, 49% self-identified as “pro-choice” and 45% as “pro-life.” That’s pretty much in line with where things have stood for the last decade-and-a-half, except for a strange finding in 2009 which suddenly showed a 51/42 “pro-life” advantage. Now the strange finding is back, with a sudden, inexplicable 50/41 pro-life advantage. The sharp drop in pro-choice self-identificaition since the 2011 survey extends across all party identification categories, so it’s not just a matter of Republicans hearing months of anti-choice propaganda during a presidential primary season.

So what does this mean? Probably nothing at all. The poll is likely an outlier, as the one in 2009 clearly seemed to be, particularly given the unusual stability over time of public opinion on abortion. But whatcha want to bet the Gallup headline gets a lot of attention, without much if any context, in certain precincts of the media? It’ll be fun to watch.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on May 23, 2012 10:17 AM:

    This is why the political media is so stupid (an in particular, has the statistical understanding of a 3-year-old). If your threshold of confidence is 5%, and you do 100 such surveys, you should expect roughly five of them to come up with actual number outside of the confidence interval. You wouldn't know that if you only looked at that one survey in isolation.

  • slappy magoo on May 23, 2012 10:20 AM:

    Your definition of fun differs from mine...

  • Hedda Peraz on May 23, 2012 10:31 AM:

    Life is good- considering the alternative.

  • stormskies on May 23, 2012 10:31 AM:

    This just more political propaganda from the utterly corrupt Gallup Poll. And, of course, it is intentional. This is no different than, say, the recent CBS poll that pretended that buffoon Romney was suddenly ahead of Obama by 3 percentage points. When one looked into that poll the lies were so deep that it even pretended that suddenly more women favored buffoon Romney than Obama. Yep, that what they claimed.

    It's pure political propaganda generated by an utterly corrupt corporate poll.

  • castanea on May 23, 2012 10:32 AM:

    slappy, I'm with you.

    Watching my country slowly spiral downward into the abyss has not been very much fun for me. I don't think I'm alone.

  • T2 on May 23, 2012 10:40 AM:

    this is a political football. All GOPers are going to say "pro-life" even if they are on The Pill. The latest "contraception" bru ha ha guarantees all the TeaBaggers will be pro-life 'cause Planned Parenthood is a socialist government intervention in our life, etc.
    Catholics are probably shamed into saying pro-life even if 86% of them use contraception.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on May 23, 2012 10:41 AM:

    I'll bet it's not an outlier. Republicans are winning.

  • c u n d gulag on May 23, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Can you say, "SCARY?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!"

  • SYSPROG on May 23, 2012 11:04 AM:

    Why don't they ever poll ME???

  • Steve M. on May 23, 2012 12:16 PM:

    I've been saying this for years at my blog, and I'll say it again: When voters think the right to an abortion is safe, support for abortion rights slips. When they think abortion rights are threatened, support increases. We have a president who's proudly proclaiming himself pro-choice, so abortion rights seem safe -- now.

    Apologies for the blogwhore, but here's evidence and links:


  • Mitch on May 23, 2012 12:29 PM:

    A buddy sent a picture to me yesterday, with a caption that said something along the lines of:

    Polls today are taken exactly the same way they were in the 1950s—over a land line. Who has a land line in these days of caller ID and cell phones and would take the time to answer a random pollster? The elderly, that's who. The elderly who are far more likely to be conservative. Do not be disheartned by polls!

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on May 23, 2012 12:33 PM:

    Mitch: I'm pretty sure that's untrue. AFAIK the reputable polls all sample from cell phones now.

  • Old Uncle Dave on May 23, 2012 12:39 PM:

    I am both. I'm pro-choice because I'm for women's right to control their own bodies. I'm pro-life because I am against the death penalty.

    Figures don't lie, but liars figure.

  • Mitch on May 23, 2012 1:00 PM:


    You're probably right. But either way any poll should be taken with a large amount of salt. They are never really worth stressing over.