In its latest poll on abortion, Gallup headlines its conclusion that the “new normal” is that more Americans are pro-life than pro-choice. This is the second poll that confirms the reversal of pro-life and pro-choice positions that Gallup first revealed a year ago. In fact, the current preference, by two percentage points, is not statistically significant. The new normal is actually that Americans are equally divided between pro-life and pro-choice.
That’s exactly where we were a decade ago. In the interim, pro-life trended down and up; pro-choice, up and down. One way of interpreting the data is as a countervailing process whereby pro-choice identification increases when the GOP is in power, pro-life when it’s the Democrats. During the Democratic ascendancy of the past few years, the shift has occurred entirely among Republicans and those Independents who lean Republican. This helps explain why a libertarian like Rand Paul has evolved into a pro-lifer in running for the GOP senatorial nomination in Kentucky. (Meanwhile, the percentage of pro-life Democrats has modestly declined.)
In spite of the modest pro-life shift of the past few years, Gallup notes with some puzzlement that attitudes on the morality of abortion are “unchanged.” Actually, over the past year the gap between Americans who think abortion is morally wrong and morally acceptable has shrunk, from 20 percentage points (56-36) to 12 percentage points (50-38). The current numbers are exactly average for the past decade. Bottom line: Since the dawn of the millennium, Americans’ views of abortion have not changed in the aggregate, but they have become more divided along party lines.