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Americans' Attitudes Toward Abortion Unchanged

Americans' Attitudes Toward Abortion Unchanged

Story Highlights

  • U.S. adults split over whether abortion is morally acceptable
  • Also divided in self-description as "pro-choice" or "pro-life"
  • Largest segment -- 50% -- want abortion legal, but with limits

PRINCETON, N.J. -- U.S. public opinion on abortion was largely steady over the past year, as Americans remained split on the morality of abortion as well as in their preferences for the "pro-choice" vs. "pro-life" labels. The vast majority of adults continue to believe abortion should be legal to some extent, with 29% saying it should be legal in all circumstances and 50% favoring legality under certain circumstances.

Recent Trend in U.S. Abortion Views
May 6-10, 2015 May 4-8, 2016
% %
Morality of abortion
Morally acceptable 45 43
Morally wrong 45 47
Abortion position
"Pro-choice" 50 47
"Pro-life" 44 46
Legality of abortion
Legal under any circumstances 29 29
Legal only under certain circumstances 51 50
Illegal in all circumstances 19 19
Gallup

Moral Acceptability Has Increased, Longer Term

The public's attitudes on the morality of abortion reflect a recent split, and contrast with a slightly more conservative stance seen in most years from 2002 through 2014. During that period, 50% of Americans, on average, called abortion morally wrong, while only 39% called it morally acceptable. Analysis of the trend by age indicates the shift is mainly because older adults, those aged 55 and older, have grown more likely to consider abortion morally acceptable.

Trends: U.S. Adults Views on Morality of Abortion

Over the same period, Americans' perceptions of themselves as either "pro-choice" or "pro-life" in their abortion views have bounced around somewhat, but have generally broken fairly evenly since 2010. This contrasts with the period from 2004 through 2008, when the "pro-choice" position held a consistent edge.

Trend: With respect to the abortion issue, would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life?

Meanwhile, Americans' fundamental view about the legality of abortion has been broadly steady, with the largest segment consistently favoring the middle position of three that Gallup supplies, saying abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. Of the remainder, more Americans lean to the left than to the right on the issue, with 29% saying abortion should be legal in all circumstances vs. 19% saying it should be illegal in all circumstances.

Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?

A follow-up question asked of those favoring the middle position clarifies that most of these -- constituting 37% of Americans -- think abortion should generally be rare, occurring in only a few circumstances. The other 13% think it should be legal in most circumstances or are unsure.

Bottom Line

In contrast with public support for gay rights -- more specifically, same-sex marriage -- which has grown in recent years, Americans' views on abortion have been remarkably steady. Not only have attitudes changed little in the past year, but they also have been broadly steady over the past decade, spanning three presidential elections. While Americans are a bit more likely to call abortion morally acceptable today than they were in 2004, 2008 and 2012, the percentage calling themselves "pro-choice" is similar to what Gallup found in those years. The overall stability provides a predictable political environment for candidates. Additionally, as Gallup reported previously, the 20% of Americans saying they will vote only for a candidate who agrees with them on abortion has also remained steady, with pro-life voters slightly more likely than pro-choice voters to say the issue is critical to their vote.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 4-8, 2016, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup


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