Last year, Gallup showed that Americans had become more pro-life than pro-choice for the first time in their polls. One year later, Gallup reached the same conclusion of a poll of adults. The pollster tends to reflect more on political polarization as a driver for the trend, but there may be other elements at play:
The conservative shift in Americans’ views on abortion that Gallup first recorded a year ago has carried over into 2010. Slightly more Americans call themselves “pro-life” than “pro-choice,” 47% vs. 45%, according to a May 3-6 Gallup poll. This is nearly identical to the 47% to 46% division found last July following a more strongly pro-life advantage of 51% to 42% last May.
While the two-percentage-point gap in current abortion views is not significant, it represents the third consecutive time Gallup has found more Americans taking the pro-life than pro-choice position on this measure since May 2009, suggesting a real change in public opinion. By contrast, in nearly all readings on this question since 1995, and each survey from 2003 to 2008, more Americans called themselves pro-choice than pro-life.
According to two-year averages of these results since 2001, Republicans have become more likely to call themselves pro-life since polling conducted in 2003/2004, as have Republican-leaning independents since 2005/2006. Independents who lean to neither party also became more likely to call themselves “pro-life” between 2003/2004 and 2005/2006, but have since held steady.
Democrats’ self-identification with the pro-life position has moved in the other direction, declining from 37% in 2003/2004 to 31% in 2009/2010. Among independents who lean Democratic, there has been no movement in either direction.
But there are two other measurements which show this issue in another light entirely. Over the last ten years, every age group has seen identification with pro-life increasing, in some cases dramatically. The percentage of seniors identifying as pro-life has gone up seven points. Young adults ages 18-29 have increased four points; the 50-64 demographic has increased pro-life identification by five points. Only those in their 30s have remained relatively flat, increasing only two points in ten years.
Women may provide the most surprising demographic of all, however. In the past ten years, there has been a six-point gain among women identifying as pro-life. Men have increased only by three points in the same period, and now only are a single percentage point higher in pro-life identification. At 49% and 48%, both are coming close to establishing themselves as majorities instead of pluralities.
Gallup may be working the analysis in the wrong direction. We are looking at a cultural shift on abortion, where its perceived morality (consistently rejected by majorities over the same period of time) has finally come into closer relationship with personal identification on the issue. It’s not the political divide that’s driving these numbers — but it may be that the cultural shift has started to impact political identification as well. If so, pro-choice Democrats could find themselves in a minority party in the next several years.