|FEATURES | summer 2005
The Polls Speak: Americans Support Abortion
Despite what anti-abortion activists and politicians would have you believe, the majority of Americans continue to support a woman’s right to a legal abortion — as they have done consistently for the past 15 years. Polls show that those who strive to abolish a woman’s right to the full range of family-planning services are fundamentally out of step with American opinion. Here’s a sampling:
Voters self-identify as “pro-choice” over “pro-life” by a double-digit margin.
In 2004, 52 percent of voters identified themselves as pro-choice, 41 percent pro-life, according to Gallup Poll trend data. Although the margins have fluctuated slightly, the pro-choice position has remained dominant since 1996, and in the past four years there has been very little change in public opinion.
Americans strongly wish to keep abortion legal.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 56 percent of respondents nationwide favored keeping abortion legal in all or most cases. The survey of 1,082 adults, conducted in April 2005, showed that only 14 percent of those surveyed wanted to keep abortion illegal in all cases, with another 27 percent wanting most cases to be illegal.
Voters don’t want the government and politicians involved in their choice about abortion. In a recent survey by The Mellman Group, 62 percent of respondents felt the government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion. Only 33 percent believe the government should restrict access.
Bush should nominate Supreme Court justices who will uphold Roe v. Wade.
Nearly 60 percent of Americans say that, if presented with an opportunity to appoint one or more new justices to the Supreme Court, President Bush should pick individuals who would uphold Roe.
The Associated Press/Ipsos-Public Affairs Poll, which surveyed a national sample of 1,000 adults last November, found that only three in 10 respondents (31 percent) favored nominating justices who would overturn Roe.
Voters don’t want the Senate to rubber-stamp judicial nominees.
Three-quarters of the respondents in a poll of 1,000 likely voters said that the Senate should examine each of the president’s nominees carefully and make its own independent judgment. Only 24 percent thought that the Senate should just confirm whomever Bush puts forward.
Voters avidly support comprehensive sex education and emergency contraception and don’t support pharmacists refusing to fill birth-control prescriptions.
When the debate expands beyond abortion, voters show overwhelming support for a number of issues impacting women’s reproductive rights, family planning and prevention of unintended pregnancies. Voters recently surveyed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America overwhelmingly (78 percent) favor requirements that schools teach sex education, and 79 percent favor access to emergency contraception (EC) for rape and incest victims.
A large majority (65 percent) favors EC for all women, and 66 percent said that health-insurance policies should cover contraceptives. Respondents further showed strong support (67 percent) for a law making it clear that contraception does not constitute abortion and should not be regulated by abortion legislation. Furthermore, in the recent debate over pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions, only 40 percent of those surveyed agreed that pharmacists should be allowed to do so.
The support for abortion and family-planning rights is rooted in core values of free choice, personal responsibility and personal decision-making.
Politicians love to talk about values these days, so we can remind them that support for reproductive choice is rooted in strong ones. According to the Planned Parenthood polling, nearly nine in 10 voters (88 percent) agree that men and women should have the right to the information and means to decide freely and responsibly about the number and spacing of their children.
The abortion issue did not determine the outcome of the 2004 presidential election — but perhaps it could in a future contest.
In the months since November 2004, a host of commentators insisted that abortion had a negative impact on the election; some even blamed Democratic candidate John Kerry’s loss on his support for abortion rights.
However, data collected by Lake Snell Perry & Associates for the nonpartisan network Votes for Women 2004 shows that the election issues about which voters most cared were the economy (23 percent), national security and terrorism (19 percent), and the war in Iraq (13 percent).
When voters were asked what made them decide their presidential choice, only 2 percent volunteered the issue of abortion. Among Kerry voters, less than 1 percent offered this as an issue. Among Bush voters, only 2 percent said abortion determined their vote for president.
But actual votes for the two presidential candidates divided clearly — and evenly — along the line of abortion-rights ideology: Voters who felt abortion should be “always legal” voted 73 percent for Kerry, while self-defined pro-lifers voters voted 77 percent for George W. Bush.
Perhaps if choice had played a more visible role in the presidential campaign, John Kerry would have fared better. In fact, choice may have played a role in generating a record number of unmarried-women voters, who surged in turnout — 7.5 million more than in 2000 — with 62 percent of them casting their votes for Kerry.
Looking to the future of the electorate, 60 percent of female voters under the age of 45 were pro-choice, according to exit polling, compared to 55 percent of all 2004 voters. Effectively mobilized, perhaps they’ll demand—and vote for—only the candidates who dedicate themselves to preserving women’s reproductive rights.
Celinda Lake is a pollster and strategist for progressive groups and candidates. She is a nationally recognized expert on women voters and women candidates.