Pro-life and Pro Roe

I think public opinion on the issue of abortion is fascinating as I think there’s a naive assumption that Americans have firm, emotionally-based attitudes about abortion.  In reality, most Americans seem to be in a mushy middle where they have a vague unease about the morality of abortion and a vague unease about excessively regulating it.  I think the latest Gallup data confirms the point.  Let’s start with pro-life v. pro-choice:

Trend: U.S. Adults' Position on Abortion

In theory, it’s a big deal, that pro-life has shot past pro-choice this year.  That would, potentially, be a big deal if Americans’ underlying policy preferences– rather than how they like to label themselves– had actually undergone a dramatic change.  One could argue that the most fundamental policy issue is– is there a Constitutional right to an abortion?  On this matter, Americans have long answered, and continue to answer, “yes.”

U.S. Views on Overturning Roe v. Wade

Also note, that while this majority has shrunk to a bare one in recent years, the proportion of Americans actually wanting to overturn Roe basically hasn’t budged, rather, it is those with no opinion.  Among other things, the data suggest there’s a non-trivial portion of the population that is “pro-life” but supports Roe.  Short version– it’s important to remember that their can be a fairly significant disjunction between a political identity and actual policy views.  Some day I’ll get back to my long-forgotten research on abortion and social identity.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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