Ten Miles Square


May 23, 2012 6:19 AM The Gallup Pro-Choice Number

By John Sides

A new Gallup poll shows that the percent of Americans calling themselves pro-choice has fallen to 41%.  In 2008, when that number hit 42%, there was a predictable flurry of news attention.  So I want to call attention to what I wrote then. In short, this “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” question obscures the true nature of American attitudes toward abortion.  Support for the right to abortion depends strongly on the circumstances of the pregnancy.  They cannot be summarized with the labels “pro-choice” and “pro-life.”

Moreover, and most importantly, more nuanced measures show little of the fluctuation that Gallup’s pro-choice vs. pro-life measure shows.  Indeed Gallup’s new poll confirms this finding:

However, it is notable that while Americans’ labeling of their position has changed, their fundamental views on the issue have not.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.


  • concernedcitizen on May 23, 2012 1:26 PM:

    a good point.

    also, choice of abortion is very personal and i think it should never be up for popular votes just as civil rights for minority should never be.
    if you are against abortion, you are free to be that way. no one farces you to have abortion against your personal views just because others have abortion.
    having others making different choices does not take away your choice so i don't see why it should be illegal for all the people because majority would not agree with them.

    for a health of a society, i think numbers of abortion should be small and safe.
    but as in for marihuana usage, putting people into prisons is not always the most effective way to discourage undesired behaviors.

    in order to limit the number of abortion, it is much more affective to provide sex education, economic and medical assistances through preventative care and pre-natal and child care than making women go to jail.

    in argentina, making abortion illegal did not reduce the number of abortion since abortion itself is easily done in more dangerous, old fashioned ways such as by getting hit by car or falling off the stairs or poison or hunger clips or riding on horses.

    if you are pro-choice, you should know that taking away food stump, for example, will increase abortions than making abortion illegal.

  • Harris on May 24, 2012 2:49 PM:

    You said "If you are against abortion, you are free to be that way. no one farces you to have abortion against your personal views just because others have abortion.
    having others making different choices does not take away your choice so i don't see why it should be illegal for all the people because majority would not agree with them."

    Let me help you to see why it should be illegal. It should be illegal because you are taking away a life. Following your own logic slavery should be legal. Just substitute "slavery" for "abortion" in your statement.

  • Vanessa Callahan on May 30, 2012 4:51 PM:

    Harris no,that doesn't follow because you are assuming that everyone believes life begins at conception, that isn't true. That is a Christian belief, many other cultures and religions believe differently. It isn't your right to force your view onto the rest of America, abortion is a privacy issue. If a woman is not capable of caring for or carrying a child then she should be able to choose not to carry that child to term. Now if you want to reduce the number of abortions my advice is fight for better safety nets, try to get your neighbors and friends to adopt and/or foster those kids who were born unwanted, teach comprehensive and age appropriate sex education, and fight for more jobs and education for everyone. Otherwise the constitution doesn't allow for your religious views to be implemented into our laws.

  • louis r on June 03, 2012 3:54 AM:

    How does the reactionary right do it EVERYTIME?

    "Americans for Prosperity"
    "Americans for Truth and Justice,"
    "Americans Against Unfair Taxes,"

    How do they do this? They take an issue, pick the most reactionary, narrow-minded, pro-business, anti-worker, anti-progressive POSITION, they couch it in a patriotic, "nice/morally superior" frame of reference, they SELL the title and the message.
    The liberals and the Dems and the MEDIA, do NOTHING and go along with the program.
    How do you get "pro-life" out of AGAINST a woman's right to choose?"

    How does "Affordable Health Care" become "Obamacare" and remain that without challenge?
    I don't get it. THIS is WHY people are mad...The LIBS are seen as "whiney punks" always on the defense or "crying" without getting anything done. Allowing the GOP to lie and distort, YET constantly DEFEDNING themselves against the GOP lies!!
    See Warren in MASS and her getting attacked like trash for claiming NA heritage. Where is the OUTRAGE from the left?
    Yet, Obama "sucks up to McCain, like McCain (that trash) is his "long lost granddaddy?"
    Get some balls.

  • Harris on June 05, 2012 12:49 PM:

    Vanessa, what percent of the people doesn't believe that life begins at conception? What do you call that thing that is growing in the mother's womb? Even if you have never had a child I am sure you have had friends that say something to the effect that my baby is alive and well when they were pregnant. It is not dead tissue that suddenly becomes alive at birth.

    Are you not trying to force your view when you say that life should be protected immediately after birth (I am assuming here that you do). Peter Singer (Princeton professor) and others like him don't think so. They think that parents should be given a few days after birth to determine whether they want to keep their child or not.

    This is not a religious issue. We as a society need to establish when human life begins. The best scientific data show that an human being starts at the point of conception and from there all you add from outside is nutrition. If everyone is allowed to determine for themselves when life begins then chaos will result. We cannot have a stable society that way.

  • JLA on June 11, 2012 8:18 AM:

    The best scientific data show that conception results in a cell. I would suggest that it requires an enormous amount of faith to declare that a cell is a person, making this very much a religious issue.

  • lallen56 on June 11, 2012 10:43 AM:

    Harris - We can't know when life begins from a religious point of view because the religions diverge in view, and because views change over time. The only opinion we hear currently is from the extreme right, but it has not always been so. If you believe that God "breathed life" into Adam, you can argue that life begins at the first breath. Otherwise the tissue, while not dead tissue, is not fully separate as a living being until that first breathe. Do we get a "conception certificate to show our beginnings as a person?" No, we get a birth certificate.

    This is very much a religious issue because the controversy has been hatched by religious zealots seeking power over women's reproduction, mostly in the last 20 years or so. When I was in college (during the 70's) abortion was seen by my church as correcting a physical error, not killing a person. It was acceptable if the birth of a defective fetus would endanger the wellbeing of a family. Our church organist aborted a severely defective fetus and was lauded by our church leaders for making a good decision for the emotional and financial future of her family. My how times have changed.

    The personhood issue arose from religion, was shoved down our throats by religion and picked up by right wing political opportunists. The strategy was to "'divide and conquer,' make it so emotional that no reasonable dialogue could be possible, and promote the argument as gospel. This wedge issue has clouded more politics than it is worth, and if allowed, could be the undoing of women's rights.

    I hope more people see it for what it is - a power grab and a diversion from economic and political power issues. Because it is a religious argument it should not sway legislation. It is a personal medical issue informed by religious belief and should not be used as a sledgehammer to take away the right to make that personal choice, however difficult.

  • Harris on June 13, 2012 11:42 AM:

    JLA – We all start with a cell. At the time of conception, the hereditary account of a child is sealed. It is at this time when the child's characteristics are determined: color of the eyes, color of hair, type of body build, mental capabilities, and many others. The entire genome that the child will have for the rest of his or her life is determined at this stage. If this is not a person then when would you say a person becomes a person and why?

    lallen56 – I am wondering whether you read my response to Vanessa carefully. I never brought religion into the picture. I clearly said this is not a religious issue. There are atheists who are against abortion clearly pointing out that this is not a religious issue. You are the one who is arguing from a religious point of view stating God breathing life into Adam and that your church organist having an abortion was lauded by the church leaders. You also asked whether we get a conception certificate to show our beginnings as a person. Really, is this an argument for your position? Can we even know when the conception occurs to give a certificate if we wanted to?

    The issue of abortion has to do with when human life should be protected by law. As I mentioned all the basic human characteristics of a person is determined at conception. It is up to you to defend when human life should be protected by law if you are not accepting what I said. Keep in mind that you have to defend your position over that of Peter Singer, Professor of “Bioethics” at Princeton who says humans should be protected only when they show signs of self-awareness!

  • Candi on June 14, 2012 4:10 PM:


    By the definition of "alive" that you are employing, chemo should be outlawed, because cancer cells are live people.

    Dead people have all the DNA of a human, and the same amount of body functions as the cell at conception. Just, with an actual body. Does this mean we should stop calling them dead? After all, they have the entire DNA pattern!

    You believe abortion is wrong. That's your personal choice, and more power to you. But what you believe should not be used to force others to do something against their will. Please try and understand that.

    What if the majority view were suddenly that every baby should be aborted, and you were arguing against it? Would you not still demand that your wife's right to keep her baby be respected, no matter what everyone else thinks?

    The fact that you believe you hold the correct belief does NOT give you permission to force it on everyone else, no matter what you think is at stake.

  • Harris on June 15, 2012 11:39 AM:

    Candi, cancer cells are not your start. The product of conception is. I will ask you the same question I ask others. At what point should a human be protected by law and why?

    You say,” You believe abortion is wrong. That's your personal choice, and more power to you. But what you believe should not be used to force others to do something against their will. Please try and understand that.”

    Please try and understand that this is the same argument that was used for slavery. Also, Peter Singer will say the same thing to you regarding infanticide. “You believe that infanticide is wrong. That’s your personal choice, and more power to you. But what you believe should not be used to force others…” Can you not see the absurdity of this argument?

    If the majority suddenly said that every baby should be aborted I will not only argue for the right of my wife to keep her baby but every other woman’s to keep their babies as well. Please, please think this through. The issue is at what point should society protect human life NOT it is everyone to decide for themselves when life should be protected. As I said before this would lead to chaos. We cannot maintain a stable society this way.