June 14, 2009

Measuring Abortion Beliefs

Author_sally  By Sally Raskoff

Headlines across the country recently noted that more Americans now consider themselves “pro-life” than ”pro-choice”. In the last month many polls have focused on Americans’ views on abortion, yet the Gallup poll released on May 15, 2009, got the most attention. President Obama was just about to give the commencement address at Notre Dame where a controversy had erupted; critics complained that a pro-choice politician should not have been granted an honorary degree at a Catholic institution.

The Gallup poll graphs below show the new divergence of opinion. Looking at the pattern over time, it is clear that opinions of pro-choice versus pro-life have been changing, although the trend between 1998 and 2008 is not remarkable in its variety. The change that the news signaled is that last switch in the apparent prevalence of pro-life opinions.


Sociologically, let’s look at this issue more closely. Opinions on abortion, its availability, one’s identification with the issue, and its legality are sensitive and controversial because they involve religious, political, and cultural values and very personal, often difficult situations.

Polls show a variety of support depending on the wording of the questions. Look at the poll results from the last month:

Gallup Poll. May 7-10, 2009. N=1,015 adults nationwide. Margin of Error ± 3.

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

Legal Under any Circumstance Legal only under Certain Circumstances Illegal in all Circumstances Unsure
22% 53% 23% 2%

Quinnipiac University Poll. April 21-27, 2009. N=2,041 registered voters nationwide. Margin of Error ± 2.2.

"Do you think abortion should be legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases or illegal in all cases?"

Always Legal Usually Legal Usually Illegal Always Illegal Unsure
15% 37% 27% 14% 7%

The wording of the questions are only slightly different (circumstances versus cases) yet the results are quite different. Note that a only a minority hold that abortions should always be illegal. “Identity” issues also frame the debate. As the following polls show, when asked whether they consider themselves pro-life or pro-choice, respondents offered slightly different results.

Here’s something sociologists need to consider: We don’t know whether these differences are statistically significant. This rather important issue is not addressed in news reports on the Gallup Poll. It may be that we have equal percents of people in each category and the oscillations over time are not statistically significant. At the very least, the reported margin of error (MoE) shows that the percent of people in these groups may not be so different after all.

FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll. May 12-13, 2009. N=900 registered voters nationwide. MoE ± 3.

“On the issue of abortion, would you say you are more pro-life or more pro-choice?”

Pro-life Pro-Choice Both/Mix Unsure
49% 43% 6% 2%

Gallup Poll. May 7-10, 2009. N=1,015 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3.

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

Pro-choice Pro-life Mixed/Neither Don't Know What Terms Mean Unsure
42% 51% 2% 4% 1%

CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. April 23-26, 2009. N=2,019 adults nationwide. MoE ± 2.

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

Pro-choice Pro-life Unsure about Terms Mixed/Both/Neither Unsure
49% 45% 1% 3% 1%

Another way to look at abortion opinions is to ask about people’s legal opinions as this poll does. The CNN poll below asked specifically about the Roe v. Wade decision. Even if more people might identify themselves as pro-life, there is still a preponderance of support for the Supreme Court decision.

CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. May 14-17, 2009. N=1,010 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3.

"The 1973 Roe versus Wade decision established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?"

Yes, Overturn No, Not Overturn Unsure
30% 68% 1%

Here’s another piece of data to consider – the actual trends in abortions. Since the 1980s, the rates have leveled off thus abortion has not increased in use. The fact that it is has been decreasing and not increasing might lessen opinions about its availability.


To better understand how the pro-life and pro-choice opinions may be changing; take a look at these graphs from the Gallup poll and notice which lines are moving in which direction.




It seems pretty clear that more conservative, moderate, and Republican people are leaning more pro-life than they were in years past. How might we explain this? Republican leaders have stressed this issue in their attempt to solidify opposition to the Obama administration and the gains made by Democrats in the House and Senate.

From a sociological perspective, we can see that this issue is much more complex than a single headline. Before we can conclude that social change is happening, we need to examine the data available and whether our findings are statistically significant. What other methodological questions do you think we need to ask to better understand trends in public opinion?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Measuring Abortion Beliefs:


10-3-10 Assignment 1

1. Using he term pro-life or pro-choice in abortion polls can cause a bias result because of the negative connotation those results. If you say you’re pro-choice you’re somehow admitting you’re anti-life. This is obviously not the case but people are probably uncomfortable in them selves with the labels we place on it.

2. Polls about abortion are important to US politics because it is such a sensitive issue. You are undermining one group of values or the other. Abortion is very personal but yet is so public of issues that politicians are constantly trying to gage where they stand. A pro-life senator if face with a society that was mostly pro-choice would probably choose to avoid the subject. This is how politicians work so with out a polls on it they don’t know where to push and what to avoid.

3. A slight change in wording in the gallop polls versus the Quinnipiac University Polls makes a difference in results because of what people are agreeing to. , Although the same one sounds more harsh. Always in either place on the Quinnipiac Polls seemed to score lower than when they use under any circumstances. Always is a stronger more forceful word. Small changes like this can subconsciously make people more defensive.

4. Statistic significance and margin of error matter in reporting the results of pro-choice, pro-life polls because people could be misled by solely viewing the numbers. It may seem like a significant difference witch undermines the results but the margin of error could show there is not at all a significant difference.

1.Because no matter what peoples views and opinions are regarding the two choices, when its all said and done,which ever choice that was picked it diminishes the views of the opposite choice.Basically each term speaks for itself and that makes the individual seem heartless and insensitive. 2.The polls about abortion are imporatant in U.S. politics because its seems like politicians make it such a big deal to persuade whoever supports them, when its really a personal issue.So I really don't know if it is an important issue at all.

3.Because of the slight change in wording peoples vote seem to be slighty different.One of the questions seem to be a little more harsher than the other question so the vote changes. 4.It matters because when the margin of error is included, the results in the polls are misleading.

I think the terms pro-life and pro-choice makes us voters sentimental while voting.No one wants to get an abortion and no one wants to end up with an unplanned pregnancy.So voting on pro choice and pro life is very difficult for people because this is a big issue that is going on and there are so many different beliefs about what should be legal and why. I think they should change how the prop is presented and that will make people think more critically when voting on that important issue.

It seems that when they rephrased the question, the answers would slightly change. I believe everyone should have a chance at life, but we also have to take into consideration how the person that is undergoing the situation feels. We can all say we believe in "pro-life", but we might only be looking at one aspect of the situation, and that would be actually killing a human being. We do not consider by one having a baby although they might not be financially stabled, that in a way the responsiblity falls on everyone. Tax payers partly contribute to aid for people in that situation, and for most, they do not like the idea of it.

We need to ask questions clearly so the survey taker does not feel confused about which answer to present. Ultimately, it would be ideal for poeple to be either/or or not at all, but all people have opinions that is why it is important to ask many similar questions in order to find the most consistent resposne. Once you have isloated the beleif then you can start to see patterns in the rest of population and from there draw conclusions.

We need to better clear up these surveys because sometimes a person will select an answer that is CLOSEST to their beliefs, but it doesn't mean that it perfectly defines what that person might believe in. For example, just because a person may prefer pro-choice over pro-life does not mean this person supports abortion, but that he or she supports the idea of having an option as an American citizen.

Depending on how the wording is phrased, people will answer to what they can understand. They may be unclear of what certain words may mean and take the whole sentence in a different direction. Maybe there should be a set of question sole directed by people that can directly relate to the subject of abortion, and a different set for people not directly affect.

I believe that the wording of the questions themselves can be revised to really make the reader think of the situation more seriously. After all, taking someone's life is a huge choice in this country, and shouldn't be left in the background of politics.
People usually choose an answer that fits their political, or religious views. Religion is a huge factor in abortion, because at the end of the day people prioritize their religious views.
Another important factor is money. They should ask "Would you be comfortable paying taxes for abortion even though you may or may not support it?"

This is certainly a difficult position to take. I consider myself a pro-life. My religious beliefs makes me choose that, and I think the other alternative takes away the life of the unborn. For me, abortion is very wrong and people should be discouraged from doing that.

I really am not sure what my opinion is about this topic, I'd say I'm part of the 7% unsure, in some cases perhaps in a tragedy it is should be legal, but that's also the problem it feels so wrong personally I would have no idea on what to side with on behalf of the topic, I guess the situation depends on it.

I think when the topic of abortion comes along there's a lot of opinions that come along whether it's religious, personal, family, community or political views. All of these opinions can form someone's final decision about abortion. These opinions can either be helpful or hurtful opinions people have over this topic. But, in the end it's the woman who is pregnant to make the final decision of either having the baby or not. I believe this because she has to be aware whether or not she will be able to support the child in the future and if she and the child are going to be healthy. There are many reasons of why a woman can decide to have an abortion or not and in the end it doesn't have to deal with being either pro-choice or pro-life is about being actually ready to have a child. There are different ways to ask the question of being either pro-life or pro-choice but if you ask the questions with those words there might never be a clear answer of why people feel that way.

The topic of abortion has always been a sensitive issue in the United States because it is difficult to pinpoint where ‘abortion’ belongs. Is abortion a religious issue? A political issue? An individual issue? Therefore when one asks individuals to participate in surveys on this topic, one is most likely going to get different answers. I definitely find that phrasing the same question in different ways confuses poll takers because they are unsure of what the question is asking or they misinterpret the question. Other methodological questions that we need to ask to better understand trends in public opinion are perhaps if they –the poll takers- are male or female because then we will be dealing with a group of men who cannot have babies and a group of women who are physically (unless medically incapable) to have babies, the topic at hand. Another question which might help us understand trends in public opinion is that of what age group poll takers belong to. By knowing the poll takers age, we are able to conclude why certain age groups vote the way they vote. Since I am a young adult I know that my age group is most likely to vote liberally since we have shown the tendency to be liberal when it comes to such topics. Lastly, another question which might help is asking people if they vote pro-life or pro-choice based on their religious faith.

Professor Pih

To my knowledge, I have learned that opinion polls tend to generate a response bias because typically those who feel negatively about an issue will go out of their way to participate in the poll. Also people tend to lie as well, which lessens the validity of the data. For this reason, it might be a good technique to question why that person has responded to the poll in that specific way. Either way, opinion polls are bias, so I feel it would be inappropriate to try to use the data generated by the polls to generalize. Also to come to the conclusion that social change is happening, I feel that the data would be more valid if we also took the chance to look at the possibility of underlying factors that might distort the data. These underlying factors can range from many things, such as, under representation, response biases, the specific group of people the poll was issued to, and even the minority population that does not have access to poll.

In my opinion abortion, is a big topic and with that people have there own opinions on it. Self said no body is ever going to understand, then a person making the decision, there many religious believes on it an how its wrong and how people shouldn't abort a human life, but if the person itself chooses to make the decision then let it be, only themselves know what there doing and what they believe is right for there own lives. Know choosing pro-choice or pro-life is something that gives data for a person to see what others think about it. But then again, a person that chooses pro-life has never took in consideration of what a person might gone threw and thats the reason why the abort a baby. Im not saying its right to just abort, but if i was in a very tough position then maybe i would choose pro-choice. Therefore, if we had to ask a question to better understand trends in public opinion, then my opinion would be to ask the age of the person choosing either pro-choice or pro-life, to better understand why those younger or older people choose either one.

With the issue on abortion, I think it's very important that people know who to survey or poll. It should specifically be the ones that are directly affected by the laws made for pro-choice/ pro-life: women. In my opinion, I think it isn't fair if men get to vote on an issue in which there isn't a similar experience they share with women. But anyway, to better understand trends in public opinion we should first of all get informed consent and then ask open-ended questions in which the repondent won't feel like they're being lead to answering a certain way. If we interview people this way, I think we would gain more understanding on the issue and make decisions knowledgeably.

Soc 150 - Dr. Pih

Dr. Pih,

Abortion has been a popular ongoing debate for many years. Public opinion defers with race and age. If I were to ask an American woman who classifies herself as a republican about her views on abortion she would probably be against it. If I asked a young adult in college he/she might be for it, regardless of his/her political status. Abortion needs to be looked at first hand, many high school and college students are getting impregnated everyday and do not speak for abortion like these 30-40 year old politicians do. I think this should not be tested by a poll but actually studied from all types of people and their cases.

Abortion is still a questionable topic in our society. People will always have a different view on it but that might also change depending on the situation behind ones pregnancy. I think the questions can be re-worded and better detailed because reading them i went with the first instinct without even taking in to consideration if it was me in the position. I feel that some people influence can also change someones entire perspective on this subject. Also a women might make a decision depending on where they sit in society, for example someone that is less wealthy might not be able to take on the responsibility of a child rather then someone who is stable. The abortion subject is a huge topic even in our society now and the younger generation is what is fighting for this right because being young anything can happen and sometimes mistakes occur.

Abortion is a very debatable topic in our society and peopke have different views regarding it. Abortion should be studied and we must do all we can to help people see the fact that it is not good.

1. I think we might have to ask if our society is doing all that it can to creat awareness of sexual conduct and it's consequences on health. Steady decreases in abortions could be caused by a rise in sex education, and awareness of birth control options.
2. What should be considered in the above information is the phrasing of the questions asked for these polls. Someone who answered that they are simply "pro-life" (not wanting to be considered "anti-life") might chose differently if asked if they supported women's choice concerning rape and incest victims.
3. Also the spread of information regarding cases that might not be so cut-and-dry. For example: are you in favor of the pro-life rape victim who kept the child of the man who abused her, and her attacker is now fighting for paternity rights? (visitations, etc)
4. This is a very sensitive issue in America, and legislation cannot fathom every specific case that will derive from a coverall law such as "all abortions legal in every case" or "no abortions legal in any case". Although a law allowing all abortions would ensure that victims of rape and incest would be spared the further horror of fighting for parenting rights with their abusers, it would also allow the average case of ill-prepared parents to terminate their responsibility to the child.
5. Spreading information about all sides of the abortion issue to create a knowledgeable society could eliminate skewed views of radicalism on this topic.

1. Some other methodological questions we need to ask to better understand trends in public opinion is what caused their pregnancy. Was it someone who got raped or peer pressure? It should be the persons decision if they want to have their child especially if they are underage or were raped.

Im against abortion. Im already a mom and I can say that is the most amazing thing that happens to women. Many girls get pregnant at early age. But that is a consequence of their acts.

Family should keep teaching values in order to decrease this type of pregnancy.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Become a Fan

The Society Pages Community Blogs

Interested in Submitting a Guest Post?

If you're a sociology instructor or student and would like us to consider your guest post for everydaysociologyblog.com please .

Norton Sociology Books

The Real World

Learn More

Terrible Magnificent Sociology

Learn More

You May Ask Yourself

Learn More

Essentials of Sociology

Learn More

Introduction to Sociology

Learn More

The Art and Science of Social Research

Learn More

The Family

Learn More

The Everyday Sociology Reader

Learn More

Race in America

Learn More


Learn More

« Who's Helping the Evicted? | Main | From the Dog House to the Big House »