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New Poll Finds Little Shift in Public Opinion on the Morality of Abortion

A pregnant woman receives an ultrasound. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

This week, Gallup released its annual values-and-beliefs poll, which it has conducted every spring since 2001, asking respondents for their opinion about the morality of a range of issues. This year, Gallup surveyed more than 1,000 adults between May 1 and May 13, and the results indicate that public opinion on morality issues for the most part remains stable.

This is an important finding, because there has been relatively little polling on morality issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. Disruptive events such as an outbreak can affect religiosity, which often informs views on morality and policy, so it is noteworthy that this year’s results are similar to last year’s.

The results add to a body of survey data showing that a plurality of Americans (47 percent) believes abortion is morally wrong. Just 44 percent of respondents said abortion is morally acceptable, a slight increase from previous surveys. Nineteen of the last 20 values-and-beliefs polls from Gallup have found that a plurality of Americans believes abortion is morally wrong. This is the second recent national poll suggesting that public attitudes on life issues have remained relatively stable during the pandemic.

The polling trends on assisted suicide are also interesting. The new survey found that 51 percent of respondents believe doctor-assisted suicide is morally acceptable, which is discouraging for pro-lifers. However, this is the third consecutive year that Gallup’s values-and-beliefs poll has found a decline the moral acceptability of doctor-assisted suicide, a positive short-term trend. The percentage of people who believe doctor-assisted suicide is morally acceptable has fallen by six points since 2017.

Assisted suicide has become a very salient issue over the last few years, as Vermont, Colorado, California, Hawaii, and New Jersey all have legalized the practice recently. Several other states are set to consider legislation doing the same.

Unfortunately, there are some troubling, long-term trends reflected in the new poll. Since Gallup first began conducting this survey, Americans have adopted more permissive views on a range of issues pertaining to sexual morality. For instance, since 2001, Americans’ views on the moral acceptability of each of premarital sex, polygamy, and having a baby outside of marriage has increased by at least 13 points. Because a significant body of public-opinion data suggests that attitudes toward abortion and other life issues are strongly correlated with attitudes toward sexual morality, this new poll suggests that pro-lifers and social conservatives might have reason to be concerned.

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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