Support for abortion is slipping among most demographic and political groups, a new poll revealed this week.
In 2007 and 2008, pro-choice Americans clearly outnumbered pro-lifers 54 percent to 40 percent. But surveys conducted this year by the Pew Research Center showed that views of abortion are about evenly divided, with 47 percent expressing support for legalized abortion and 44 percent expressing opposition.
Declining support for abortion is seen among men and women; whites and Hispanics; Republicans, Democrats and independents; and white Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and the unaffiliated.
Groups that had once clearly preferred keeping abortion legal – such as men, white mainline Protestants, and political independents – are now divided, the Pew report noted.
"The size of the shift is modest, but the consistency with which we see it occurring and the implications it has for the overall dynamics of the debate make it significant," Gregory Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, told The New York Times.
Results from the new survey, released Thursday, contrast with those of other recent polls that have shown little change in Americans' views of abortion. New York Times/CBS News polls and an ABC News/Washington Post poll found the majority of Americans still say abortion should be legal, as was the case over a decade ago.
Another major pollster, however, found a similar shift toward the pro-life camp as the Pew report has documented. In May, the Gallup Poll showed that 51 percent of Americans identified themselves as pro-life – the first time a majority of U.S. adults stood against abortion since Gallup began asking the abortion question in 1995. Only 42 percent described themselves as pro-choice.
The Pew Research Center suggested that the election of pro-choice candidate Barack Obama as president may have contributed to the shift in attitude.
Twenty-nine percent of Americans think that President Barack Obama will handle the abortion issue about right while 19 percent worry the president will go too far in supporting abortion rights. Only 4 percent express concern that Obama will not go far enough to support abortion rights.
White evangelicals are most skeptical about Obama wanting to reduce the number of abortions in this country. Only 29 percent believe Obama holds that view. Meanwhile, younger Americans, aged 18-29, are most likely to say Obama favors reducing the number of abortions.
Notably, four in ten Americans are unaware of Obama's position on abortion.
The latest survey also revealed that Americans are more likely to say their religious beliefs are the primary influence on their attitudes toward abortion than their educational or personal experience.
And more than half (52 percent) of Americans say having an abortion is morally wrong.
The Pew survey was conducted Aug. 11-27 among a total of 4,013 adults. The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan "fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The center's work is carried out by seven projects, including the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.