The recent poll which the Chiaroscuro Foundation commissioned on the abortion attitudes of New York residents has received plenty of attention from conservative media outlets in recent weeks. It is heartening to know that even in a deep blue state like New York, several important aspects of the Governor Cuomo’s Reproductive Health Act, remain unpopular with the general public. Furthermore, it is also reassuring that even in a politically liberal environment, incremental pro-life laws like waiting periods and parental involvement laws still enjoy fairly broad public support.
What has received considerably less attention is the demographic breakdown of the survey. This is unfortunate because an analysis of the demographics provides some encouraging news for pro-lifers. During the 1970s and 1980s polls consistently indicated that young adults were considerably less likely to describe themselves as “pro-life” than older Americans. This concerned a number of pro-life analysts who felt that the older generation would eventually be replaced by a younger generation far less sympathetic to the pro-life message.
Now the Chiaroscuro poll — and other recent polls – still find that older Americans are more likely to describe themselves as “pro-life.” However, the differences among age cohorts are not nearly as dramatic as they used to be. More importantly, young people are actually more likely to support various incremental pro-life laws their older counterparts. The Chiaroscuro survey found that adults under 40 were statistically more likely to support waiting periods, parental involvement laws, and providing information about options and risks to pregnant women prior to the abortion.
It should be noted that other recent polls have found similar results. Last summer, the National Right to Life Committee commissioned a poll which showed that young adults ages 18-44 were actually more likely to favor the Pain Capable Abortion Prevention Act, which would ban abortion after 22 weeks of gestation. Furthermore, ever since 2000 the General Social Survey (GSS) has consistently found that young adults, ages 18-29 are more comfortable restricting abortion in a range of circumstances than older Americans.
Other results of the Chiaroscuro poll that were interesting. Those who identified as Hispanic were somewhat less likely to identify themselves as pro-life. However, Hispanics were more likely than the other respondents to support a range of incremental pro-life laws. In fact, of all the ethnic groups surveyed, Hispanics were among the most supportive of waiting periods and parental notice laws. The results also indicated that men were more likely to describe themselves as pro-life and support various pro-life laws. However, the differences in attitudes between the genders was consistently slight – only around two or three percentage points . This study adds to a substantial body of research, largely ignored by the mainstream media, that men and women have fairly similar attitudes toward abortion.
Pro-life groups should continue to conduct research on attitudes toward incremental pro-life laws. This is because professional polling organizations rarely do this. For instance, since 1995 Gallup has asked respondents to identify themselves as either “pro-life” or “pro-choice” over 35 times. In that same timespan, they have conducted opinion surveys about waiting periods before abortions three times and parental-involvement laws four times. This is likely because, up until recently, more people self-identified as “pro-choice” rather than “pro-life.” However, a substantial body of polling data, including this survey, indicates that many incremental pro-life laws enjoy broad public support from a range of demographic groups.
Michael New is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan – Dearborn, a Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New