Watching some television chatter the other night, I heard a guest say, and the host agree, that abortion is an important reason for the “gender gap” between the parties. I was aware that polling had generally not found big differences between men and women in attitudes toward abortion policy. But I hadn’t checked the numbers in a few years. What, I wondered, did the recent evidence show?
So I contacted Gallup. As I expected, there hasn’t generally been a large gap between men and women on the “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” question. In 2007, they found 46 percent of men and 45 percent of women calling themselves “pro-life.” In 2011, the numbers were 46 and 44. The most recent data point we have, though, from 2012, does show a bigger gap than usual: 53 percent of men and 46 percent of women identified as “pro-life” in Gallup’s 2012 poll. (Both men and women were more likely to call themselves “pro-life” than “pro-choice.”) This could, however, be a blip. Check in next year.
The last time Gallup asked questions about the circumstances under which abortion should be legal was in 2011. There was no consistent gender gap in the results. Men were slightly more likely to take the pro-choice side on some questions: more likely than women to say that abortion should be legal when the mother’s life is in danger, when her physical health was threatened, when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, and in the second and third trimesters; less likely to favor mandatory ultrasound laws, or waiting periods, or parental consent.
On other questions, though, it was women who tilted slightly more pro-choice, or less pro-life. They were less likely than men to support bans on partial-birth abortion. They were more likely to think abortion should be legal when the child is physically impaired, or when the parents cannot afford a child (or another one), or in the first trimester. A combined 59 percent of men said that abortion should be legal either in no circumstances or in only a few; 56 percent of women chose those responses.
Women were slightly more likely than men to take polarized views — more likely, that is, to say either that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances or that it should be legal under all circumstances.
The gender gap doesn’t appear to shrink, or do anything consistently, for Republican politicians who are pro-choice, according to exit polls. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a strong pro-lifer, won 57 percent of men and 48 percent of women in 2010. Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada, who’s pro-choice, won 57 percent of men and 49 percent of women. In 2006, pro-life senator Jim Talent of Missouri did 6 points better among men than women in his losing bid for re-election; pro-choice senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island did 7 points better among men in his own race the same year.
If the Gallup and exit-poll data are right — and they’re consistent with other polls I’ve seen over the years — then it’s hard to see any evidence that differences between the sexes in views about abortion policy drive the gender gap between parties, in part because there’s not much evidence that such views vary much by gender.
— Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor of National Review.