Last month, Gallup released its annual poll on abortion attitudes in the United States, showing that 46 percent of Americans identify as “pro-life and 49 percent identify as “pro-choice.” In the 1990s and early 2000s, the pro-life position made some impressive gains in the court of public opinion, but over the last eight years, there has been a veritable public-opinion stalemate on this issue. Of the past 13 polls Gallup has conducted since 2009, six indicated a “pro-choice” plurality, six indicated a “pro-life” plurality, and one was a tie.
This most recent Gallup poll was particularly useful because it broke down abortion attitudes by partisan affiliation, revealing some fascinating historical trends. Interestingly, the percentage of Democrats identifying as “pro-choice” has increased from 56 percent to 71 percent since 2001.
Much has been written about how the Republican party became home to pro-life voters and politicians. Journalists and researchers have paid less attention, however, to how the Democratic party’s voters and elected officials have become increasingly supportive of legal abortion.
Savvy Democratic politicians in many parts of the country knew that aggressively liberal stances on social issues might alienate these voters and, as a result, found ways to moderate their stances. When he ran for president in 1992, Bill Clinton campaigned on making abortion “rare.”