"Pro-Life" Label Winning

May 24, 2012

A new Gallup poll shows that the percentage of Americans self-identifying as "pro-choice" on the abortion issue (41%) has reached a record low (since Gallup started asking the question in 1995). Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans calling themselves "pro life" (50%) is one percent away from its record high. Not surprisingly, these findings were quickly trumpeted by many in the pro-life community as positive signs of progress on this critical issue. While such movement is indeed a sign that the "pro-life" side is slowly winning the cultural debate, the survey actually is not as positive for the "pro-life" side as it first seems. Despite the progress on which label Americans use to describe their abortion position, the public's position on when abortion should or should not be allowed remains quite stable. According to the Gallup poll, most Americans continue to say abortion should be legal in certain circumstances (like life of the mother) and that percentage remains fairly steady--and the percentage of those saying abortion should be legal in all circumstances and the percentage of those saying abortion should be illegal in all circumstances also have remained basically the same. This suggests that the change of opinion is less about abortion and more about labels. More Americans are adopting the "pro-life" label and rejecting the "pro-choice" label even as their opinion on the morality and legality of abortion remains much the same. Although this is still a "pro-life" victory--by successfully framing their perspective as preferable--it suggests much more work is needed to actually change people's opinion on the issue. These poll results also suggest that labels like "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are not very helpful since people use them to mean different positions; after all, Gallup allows people to pick which label they prefer without providing a definition of the labels. Clearly, positions on abortion are more nuanced than our labels suggest.

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