Media Outlets Mislead on Gallup Abortion Survey

Planned Parenthood employees look out from their building, St. Louis, Mo., June 4, 2019. (Lawrence Bryant/Reuters)

Last week, Gallup released new polling data on sanctity of life issues, and in their coverage, many mainstream media outlets have attempted to argue that there has been an increase in public support for legal abortion.

As Alexandra DeSanctis noted here at NRO last week, the new Gallup survey found that 47 percent of Americans think abortion is “morally acceptable,” a record high. A number of media outlets, including The Hill, the Independent, and Forbes have focused on this particular finding in their coverage of the poll.

However, it is worth noting that the percentage of Americans who find abortion “morally acceptable” increased by only three percentage points from the previous Gallup poll on abortion, conducted in May 2020. What’s more, this latest survey asked a number of questions about life issues, and considered as a whole, the data suggest a great deal of stability in public attitudes toward abortion. For instance, the same Gallup poll found that 47 percent of Americans identify as “pro-life,” which equals the average “pro-life” sentiment over the past five Gallup surveys.

Additionally, the survey found that since 2019, there has actually been a slight decrease in the percentage of Americans who want to see the Supreme Court uphold Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, 52 percent of Americans report believing that abortion should either be “illegal” or “legal in only a few circumstances,” which is broadly consistent with previous Gallup polling.

It’s worth noting, too, that Gallup conducted this survey prior to the release of President Biden’s proposed budget, which did not include the Hyde amendment and thus would allow federal funds to directly underwrite elective abortion procedures. Since polls tend to find that taxpayer funding of abortion is unpopular, even among Democrats, it is possible that there has been a slight increase in pro-life sentiment since this was conducted.

As a result of the upcoming Supreme Court case considering a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi, life issues will be especially salient this year. As a result, media outlets and survey research firms are likely to conduct numerous polls on abortion, and shifts in public opinion can affect both legislation and court decisions. Given that reality, some journalists and commentators will continue to spin poll results to give the impression that public support for legal abortion has increased. But pro-lifers should not be misled. A substantial number of polls from a variety of research firms show that public attitudes toward abortion have been largely stable over the past few decades, and there tends to be strong support for both the Hyde amendment and a wide range of incremental pro-life laws.

Michael J. New is a research associate at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and is an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New