During last week’s controversy over Texas Senate Bill 5, National Journal released a poll which found that by a 48-44 margin, Americans favor banning abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. The survey results were not particularly surprising. A substantial body of polling data indicates that Americans are more likely to support, rather than oppose, incremental pro-life legislation. However, what is more interesting is the demographic breakdown. The results of the National Journal poll indicate that 50 percent of women support the 20-week abortion ban. Similarly, individuals under 30 supported the ban by a 52-39 margin. Unfortunately, the media typically gives little attention to the demographic breakdown of abortion surveys. After all, they do not want to disrupt their narrative that young people and women support legal abortion.
Indeed, the notion that women are much more supportive of abortion than men is one of the most persistent myths surrounding abortion politics. In reality, a substantial amount of survey data finds that men and women actually have fairly similar views on abortion. Polls taken by Gallup and Rasmussen sometimes find that women are more likely than men to describe themselves as “pro-choice.” However, the difference is usually slight. Interestingly, Gallup polling data since the 1970s finds that women are more likely to think that abortion should be legal in all circumstances — but also more likely to think that abortion should be banned in all circumstances. Also, polls that examine specific circumstances under which abortion should be legal usually find very similar attitudes across the genders. Furthermore, some surveys, including last week’s National Journal poll, find that women are more likely to support incremental pro-life laws.
The findings for young adults were also interesting. Historically, young adults have been less likely to describe themselves as “pro-life” than older Americans. In fact, during the 1970s these disparities caused some political analysts to wonder about the long-term viability of the pro-life movement. However, this National Journal poll adds to a nice body of survey data which find that young people are actually more likely than older Americans to support incremental pro-life laws. Within the past year, polls have shown that people under 30 are actually more likely than other age demographics to support late-term abortion bans, parental involvement laws, and waiting periods. Furthermore, since 2000 the General Social Survey (GSS) has consistently found that young adults are more comfortable restricting abortion in certain circumstances than are older Americans.
The special session of the Texas state legislature started today. A bill similar to Senate Bill 5 will doubtless receive consideration. The media will doubtless portray the debate as one between a legislature that is largely white, male, and pro-life and abortion-rights activists who are disproportionately young and female. However, contrary to the media narrative, a growing body of survey data indicate that incremental pro-life legislation enjoys broad support from a wide range of demographic groups. Furthermore, young people and women are actually statistically more likely to support many incremental pro-life laws.
Michael J. New is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, a Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an Adjunct Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.