On the eve of President Obama's controversial commencement speech at Notre Dame, a new Gallup Poll out today shows a majority of Americans calling themselves "pro-life" on abortion for the first time since Gallup starting asking the question in 1995.
The survey, conducted May 7-10, found 51 percent saying they were pro-life and 42 percent pro-choice -- a significant shift from a year ago, when 50 percent were pro-choice and 44 percent pro-life. Previously, the highest percentage identifying as pro-life was 46 percent, in both August 2001 and May 2002, Gallup said.
While the poll itself didn't ask about the impact of Obama, anti-abortion groups jumped on the results, pointing out that pollsters said, "It is possible that, through his abortion policies, Obama has pushed the public's understanding of what it means to be "pro-choice" slightly to the left, politically. While Democrats may support that, as they generally support everything Obama is doing as president, it may be driving others in the opposite direction."
Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement: "These polling results confirm a long trend: Americans are increasingly identifying with the position of protecting human life. It’s not shocking that we’re seeing stronger pro-life opinions. This trend has been steady since the early ‘90s. What is interesting is American’s shift in self-labeling to a majority ‘pro-life’ identification. Americans are now seeing through the PR-generated label, ‘pro-choice.’ Sonograms and real-life experience have deemed this label hollow. President Obama and the pro-abortion majority in Congress are in a collision course with public opinion on abortion policy. What we’re debating right now – taxpayer funding for abortion – dramatically outstrips public opinion.”
UPDATE: This afternoon, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, disputed the poll, pointing to the success of abortion-rights candidates for Congress and to abortion-rights supporters winning seven ballot measures in South Dakota, California, Oregon, and Colorado since 2005.
“The findings in this Gallup poll do not square with the voting patterns in the last two elections cycles,” she said in a statement. “It would be a mistake for anti-choice groups to interpret this one poll as a signal that Americans want even more interference from politicians in their personal, private decisions, including a woman’s right to choose safe, legal abortion.”
The Gallup survey gave respondents three options for the extent to which abortion should be legal and found that about as many Americans now say the procedure should be illegal in all circumstances (23 percent) as say it should be legal under any circumstances (22 percent). This contrasts with the last four years, when Gallup found a strong tilt of public attitudes in favor of unrestricted abortion.
The percentage of Republicans (including independents who lean Republican) calling themselves "pro-life" rose by 10 percentage points over the past year, from 60 percent to 70 percent, while there has been essentially no change in the views of Democrats and Democratic leaners.
While there has been lots of publicity about the division in the Catholic community over Obama's appearance and there are expected to be several protests facing Obama on Sunday, the Gallup poll said "the swelling of the pro-life position since last year is seen across Christian religious affiliations, including an eight-point gain among Protestants and a seven-point gain among Catholics."
The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Another poll conducted last month by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found a slim majority of Catholics who had heard about the issue supporting Notre Dame's decision to invite Obama.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.