Last week, the Pew Research Center released a poll on public opinion about abortion in Europe and the United States. The survey asked respondents whether abortion should be “legal in all or most circumstances.” Responses varied quite a bit across the regions, with most European countries showing greater public support for legal abortion than the United States did.
The finding that has received the most attention, however, is that in both the United States and in 27 of the 34 European countries surveyed, men and women do not differ significantly in their attitudes toward abortion.
Public-opinion scholars have long known that men and women have fairly similar opinions about abortion. Women tend to be more religious than men and have more conservative views on sexual issues. Both religiosity and social conservatism are strongly correlated with opposition to abortion. In fact, three polls conducted during summer 2013 found that women were actually more likely than men to support a federal 20-week abortion ban.
This is often ignored by pundits and commentators. When Republican political candidates fare poorly with female voters, for example, observers usually — and unfairly — blame the GOP’s pro-life position.
Part of the problem, too, is that professional survey-research firms sometimes mishandle sanctity-of-life issues. Polling firms frequently ask questions about Roe v. Wade that explain neither the decision itself nor the implications if it were to be reversed. Professional survey companies also rarely ask questions about incremental pro-life laws, such as 20-week bans, which often enjoy broad public support.
In this case, though, Pew deserves credit for commissioning a poll that might help to debunk a persistent myth about public attitudes toward abortion.