ACCORDING TO A RECENT POLL, new voters are trending pro-life on abortion.
The nonpartisan Pace University/Rock the Vote survey, conducted by the Pace Poll in mid July, is the first in a three-part nationwide study of first-time voters, defined as "voters who registered after the 2000 presidential election."
Most news coverage of the survey has focused on its implications for the general election. Namely, that in a head-to-head Bush-Kerry race, post-2000 registrants support Kerry over Bush by 50 percent to 40 percent; and in a three-way Bush-Kerry-Nader race, Bush garners 44 percent of the vote to Kerry's 42 percent and Nader's 6 percent.
But the press has largely ignored first-time voters' opinions about abortion rights. On abortion, Pace Poll researchers slice the new voter demographic into four groups. There are those who believe "abortions should be legal and generally available" (21 percent); those who feel "regulation of abortion is necessary, although it should remain legal in many circumstances" (23 percent); those who say "abortion should be legal only in the most extreme cases, such as to save the life of the mother, incest, or rape" (41 percent); and those who think "all abortions should be made illegal" (13 percent).
The survey shows that, essentially, 44 percent of new voters are pro-choice while 54 percent are pro-life. Among first-time Latino voters, pro-lifers outnumber pro-choicers 61 percent to 34 percent; among blacks, the pro-life/pro-choice breakdown is 59 percent/42 percent. Self-described "moderates" similarly tend to be more pro-life (52 percent) than pro-choice (45 percent).
Pro-life views also have surprising traction among new voters who identify themselves as John Kerry supporters. A plurality (34 percent) of Kerry voters, not to mention pluralities of new independent voters (36 percent) and new undecided voters (35 percent), believe "abortion should be legal only in the most extreme cases, such as to save the life of the mother, incest, or rape."
On the other hand, some 31 percent of Kerry voters say "abortions should be legal and generally available," the most extreme pro-choice position available. But still, first-time Kerry voters are more likely to be pro-life than they are to favor abortion on demand, according to the Pace Poll.
These findings come on the heels of an April 2004 Zogby poll, which showed that 56 percent of Americans either believe abortion should never be legal or would restrict it to cases of rape, incest, and when the mother's life is in danger.
Zogby also revealed that more Americans consider themselves pro-life (49 percent) than pro-choice (45 percent). And according to a Gallup Youth Survey released last November, 72 percent of U.S. teenagers think abortion is morally wrong, 32 percent of teens would outlaw it entirely, and only 19 percent support abortion on demand.
To be sure, Americans' thoughts on the unborn are famously hard to unravel. Activists on both sides of the issue are thus wary of reading too much into individual polls. But, at the very least, the recent Pace Poll, Zogby, and Gallup results suggest pro-lifers should be guardedly optimistic about the future of abortion politics.
Duncan Currie is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.
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