By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — The percentage of Americans who say they are “pro-choice” reached a record low, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday, but the political significance of the new data remains unclear given the volatile nature of the abortion issue.
According to Gallup, 41 percent identified themselves as “pro-choice,” while 50 percent said they were “pro-life.” The poll, conducted May 3 to May 6, was based on a sample of 1,024 adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Both results are records. The “pro-choice” position is down from 47 percent last July and 1 percentage point lower than the previous record. In 2006, 51 percent of Americans described themselves as “pro-choice.”
The latest results show a shift among people when asked about their label on the issue. But views of the legality of abortion have remained constant over the years.
“Gallup began asking Americans to define themselves as pro-choice or pro-life on abortion in 1995, and since then, identification with the labels has shifted from a wide lead for the pro-choice position in the mid-1990s to a generally narrower lead for pro-choice — from 1998 through 2008 — to a close division between the two positions since 2009,” the polling group said.
“However, in the last period, Gallup has found the pro-life position significantly ahead on two occasions, once in May 2009 and again today. It remains to be seen whether the pro-life spike found this month proves temporary, as it did in 2009, or is sustained for some period,” Gallup noted.
The latest results come as abortion rights have been in the news, hence in the American public’s mind. In recent months, lawmakers have battled over congressional funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services among other health services. And the Obama administration and the Roman Catholic Church have been engaged in an ongoing dispute over funding for health insurance that includes contraception services at church-related institutions.
Not surprisingly, the latest Gallup poll shows that 72 percent of those calling themselves Republican said they were “pro-life,” up from 68 percent last year. Democrats have run around 60 percent in the “pro-choice” category.
Those calling themselves independents were at 41 percent supporting the “pro-choice” position — 10 points lower than in May 2011. On the flip side, those calling themselves “pro-life” were at 47 percent, up 6 percentage points since May 2011. “Pro-lifers” now outnumber “pro-choicers” for the second time since 2001.
A slight majority of Americans, 51 percent, said they consider abortion morally wrong, while 38 percent said it was morally acceptable, according to the poll.
Despite that split, a majority of Americans (52 percent in the latest poll) have repeatedly said since 1975 that abortion should be legal under some circumstances, while roughly a quarter over the same period have said it should be legal under all circumstances. Opposition to legality has been around 20 percent since 1975.