Can You Say “Outlier?”

One of the Gallup’s many longitudinal surveys asks Americans if they consider themselves “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” It’s a question of limited significance if not backed up by definitions (Who’s against “choice?” Who’s against “life?”), but perhaps still an interesting measurement of “brands.”
The last time Gallup conducted this survey, in July of last year, 49% self-identified as “pro-choice” and 45% as “pro-life.” That’s pretty much in line with where things have stood for the last decade-and-a-half, except for a strange finding in 2009 which suddenly showed a 51/42 “pro-life” advantage. Now the strange finding is back, with a sudden, inexplicable 50/41 pro-life advantage. The sharp drop in pro-choice self-identificaition since the 2011 survey extends across all party identification categories, so it’s not just a matter of Republicans hearing months of anti-choice propaganda during a presidential primary season.

So what does this mean? Probably nothing at all. The poll is likely an outlier, as the one in 2009 clearly seemed to be, particularly given the unusual stability over time of public opinion on abortion. But whatcha want to bet the Gallup headline gets a lot of attention, without much if any context, in certain precincts of the media? It’ll be fun to watch.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.