Religion and Social Trends

Americans Closely Divided Into Pro-Choice and Pro-Life Camps

Pro-life side more attentive to Supreme Court appointments

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- No fewer than four U.S. Supreme Court justices are on the retirement watch list by virtue of their age, their health, or both -- with conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist's exit being the most widely anticipated. Although his replacement would not likely alter the political balance of the high court with respect to abortion cases, any vacancy is likely to spark a colossal political battle in Washington -- and if history is any guide, that battle is likely to include a debate on abortion.

Gallup recently asked Americans how important it is to them, personally, that future U.S. Supreme Court nominees share their views on abortion. Just under half of Americans, 45%, say this is very important, 31% say it is somewhat important, and a combined 23% say it is not too important or not important at all.

This is a case where the percentage saying "very important" is particularly relevant, because it is the best indication of who will take an active role in lobbying for or against Supreme Court nominees on the basis of their abortion stance.

So who comprises this potentially active group (the 45% of Americans who say it is very important that future nominees share their views on abortion)?

More than half (53%) are people who describe themselves as pro-life on the abortion issue; about 4 in 10 (39%) say they are pro-choice. This contrasts with Americans as a whole, who are more evenly divided on abortion. Nationally, 48% of Americans call themselves pro-choice and 44% call themselves pro-life. Clearly, pro-life supporters have the edge in terms of their interest in the abortion position of future Supreme Court nominees.

Women comprise the majority of the "very important" group (61%), while just 39% are men. By a 55% to 39% margin, these women tend to identify themselves as pro-life rather than pro-choice. Similarly, by a 50% to 39% margin, these men tend to be pro-life. Politically, 37% are Republican, 36% are Democratic, and 27% are independent.

National Trends

As noted, Americans are about evenly divided into the pro-choice and pro-life camps (48% and 44%). This close division, with a slight edge for the pro-choice side, has been the case for the past seven years. Prior to that, Gallup recorded somewhat higher identification with the pro-choice side. For instance, in September 1995, 56% were pro-choice and 33% pro-life.

According to Gallup's longest-running trend on abortion, asked since 1975, the majority of Americans (53%) take a moderate position on the issue, saying abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. This leaves 45% who take one of two absolutist positions on either end of the spectrum: 23% say abortion should be legal under any circumstances, and 22% say it should be illegal in all circumstances.

The percentage saying abortion should be illegal in all circumstances has been inching up in the last few years -- from 15% in 2000 to 22% today -- but this is the first time since 1985 that this extreme anti-abortion view has been essentially at parity with the extreme pro-abortion rights position.

It is not clear how important this shift in the political landscape will be if a Supreme Court vacancy needs to be filled during President George W. Bush's last term in office. But there is no doubt that the landscape has changed since the last two times a Republican president filled a Supreme Court vacancy -- in 1990 and 1991, when President George H. W. Bush nominated David Souter and Clarence Thomas, respectively. Compared to the early 1990s, however, Americans today are much less likely to say abortion should be legal under any circumstances, and more likely to say that it should be illegal in all circumstances.

Both Souter and Thomas refrained from articulating clear positions on abortion during their confirmation hearings, and both were ultimately confirmed.  Thomas has been one of three reliably pro-life justices on the court, while Souter has sided with the pro-choice majority on such cases as Stenberg v. Carhart, which struck down a Nebraska ban on partial birth abortion.

Whether George W. Bush appoints someone with a more visible track record on abortion, or who is more forthcoming with his or her views in the confirmation hearings, may partly depend on what the expected public reaction would be to an admittedly pro-life justice.

As the Gallup data suggest, pro-life Americans have the edge over the pro-choice public in intensity when it comes to Supreme Court appointments. Theoretically, this should translate into more pro-life communication to members of the U.S. Senate, larger pro-life rallies supporting or opposing a nominee, and more pro-life support at election time. However, the pro-choice contingent that cares about these appointments is not insignificant, and it will undoubtedly wage a pitched battle of its own.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,005 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 2-5, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

14. Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?

Legal
under any circumstances

Legal only
under certain circumstances


Illegal in all circumstances


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2005 May 2-5

23

53

22

2

 

 

 

 

2005 Mar 21-23

23

55

20

2

2004 May 2-4

24

56

19

1

2003 Oct 24-26

26

55

17

2

2003 May 5-7

23

57

19

1

2003 Jan 10-12

24

57

18

1

2002 May 6-9

25

51

22

2

2002 Mar 22-24

27

53

19

1

2002 Feb 8-10

26

54

18

2

2001 Aug 10-12

26

56

17

1

2001 May 10-14

26

58

15

1

2001 Mar 26-28

26

51

18

5

2000 Mar 30-Apr 2

28

51

19

2

2000 Jan 13-16

26

56

15

3

1999 Apr 30-May 2

27

55

16

2

1998 Jan 16-18

23

59

17

1

1997 Nov 6-9

26

55

17

2

1997 Aug 12-13

22

61

15

2

1996 Sep 20-22 ^

24

52

17

7

1996 Jul 25-28

25

58

15

2

1995 Sep 22-24

31

54

12

3

1995 Feb 24-26

33

50

15

2

1994 Sep 6-7

33

52

13

2

1994 Mar 28-30

31

51

15

3

1993 Mar 12-14

32

51

13

4

1992 Jul 23-24 ^†

34

48

15

3

1992 Jan 16-19

31

53

14

2

1991 Sep 5-8

33

49

14

4

1991 May 30-Jun 2

32

50

17

1

1990 Apr 5-20

31

53

12

4

1989 Jul 6-9

29

51

17

3

1989 Jul 6-7

29

51

17

3

1989 Apr 12-13 †

27

50

18

5

1988 Sep 25-Oct 1

24

57

17

2

1985 Jan 3-4 †

21

55

21

3

1983 Jun 24-27

23

58

16

3

1981 May 8-11

23

52

21

4

1980 Jul 11-14

25

53

18

4

1979 Feb 23-26

22

54

19

5

1977 Dec 9-12

22

55

19

4

1975 Apr 4-7

21

54

22

3

 

 

 

 

^ Based on registered voters

† Gallup/Newsweek

15. (If certain circumstances) Do you think abortion should be legal in most circumstances or only in a few circumstances?

COMBINED RESPONSES (Q.14-15)

Legal
under any circumstances

Legal
under most circumstances

Legal only
 in a few circumstances

Illegal
in all circumstances


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2005 May 2-5

23

12

40

22

3

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Mar 21-23

23

14

39

20

4

2004 May 2-4

24

13

42

19

2

2003 Oct 24-26

26

14

40

17

3

2003 May 5-7

23

15

42

19

1

2003 Jan 10-12

24

14

42

18

2

2002 May 6-9

25

12

39

22

2

2002 Mar 22-24

27

12

40

19

2

2001 Aug 10-12

26

12

43

17

2

2001 May 10-14

26

15

41

15

3

2001 Mar 26-28

26

13

38

18

5

2000 Mar 30-Apr 2

28

11

38

19

4

2000 Jan 13-16

26

17

39

15

3

1999 Apr 30-May 2

27

12

42

16

3

1998 Jan 16-18

23

16

42

17

2

1997 Nov 6-9

26

15

40

17

2

1997 Aug 12-13

22

12

48

15

3

1996 Jul 25-28

25

13

43

15

4

1995 Sep 22-24

31

14

39

12

4

1995 Feb 24-26

32

9

41

15

3

1994 Sep 6-7

33

13

38

13

3

16. With respect to the abortion issue, would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life?       



Pro-choice



Pro-life

MIXED/NEITHER(vol.)

DON'T KNOW WHAT TERMS MEAN (vol.)



No opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2005 May 2-5

48

44

3

3

2

 

 

 

 

 

2004 May 2-4

49

44

2

3

2

2003 Oct 24-26

48

45

3

3

1

2003 May 5-7

48

45

2

4

1

2002 May 6-9

47

46

3

3

1

2001 Aug 10-12

46

46

3

3

2

2001 May 10-14

48

42

4

4

2

2001 Mar 26-28

47

41

4

6

2

2000 Mar 30-Apr 2

48

43

2

4

3

1999 Apr 30-May 2

48

42

3

4

3

1998 Jan 16-18

48

45

3

2

2

1997 Nov 6-9

51

40

3

3

3

1997 Aug 12-13

47

44

3

3

3

1996 Jul 25-28

53

36

5

3

3

1995 Sep 22-24

56

33

5

3

3

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE:  Trends taken only from polls where previous two questions (abortion legal under which circumstances) also asked.
(vol.) Volunteered Response 

17. What is your impression of how most Americans feel about abortion -- do you think most Americans feel -- [ROTATED: abortions should be legal under any circumstances, abortions should be legal only under certain circumstances, or abortions should be illegal in all circumstances]?

Legal
under any circumstances

Legal only
under certain circumstances


Illegal in all circumstances


No
opinion

 

 

 

 

2005 May 2-5

13%

67

16

4

 

 

 

 

2001 May 10-14

16%

66

11

7

18. Now thinking about future nominees to the United States Supreme Court, how important is it to you, personally, that they share your views on the abortion issue -- very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not important at all?


Very
important


Somewhat
important


Not too
important

Not important
at all


No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2005 May 2-5

45%

31

15

8

1

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/16297/americans-closely-divided-into-prochoice-prolife-camps.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030