Polling on abortion

Let’s start with the fundamentals – only a very small minority of people in Britain oppose abortion completely. The principle that women should be able to have an abortion has overwhelming support. For example, YouGov here found only 6% of people wanted to ban abortion altogether, and in a more detailled survey here found 11% thought it should be illegal in most cases, 2% illegal in all cases. Angus Reid found only 4% of people opposed to abortion completely here.

However, if there is broad consensus on the principle of abortion being legal, public opinion is more divided on what restrictions there should be on abortion and what rules should govern its availability. Political discussion on this normally circulates around the 24-week limit that applies to most abortions. Polls tend to find people fairly evenly split between reducing this limit or keeping it as it is – looking again at the two most recent YouGov polls on the subject, the first in 2011 found 40% supporting the status quo or a longer limit, 37% supporting a lower limit. In the 2012 poll 39% supported the status quo or a longer limit, 37% supported a lower limit. The Angus Reid poll found 48% supported a reduction, 39% supported the status quo or a longer limit. The last ICM poll I can find asked specifically about a reduction to 20 weeks, and found 53% supported it, 30% were opposed. People are, essentially, pretty evenly split over the issue.

It is worth looking at the crossbreaks on abortion. Abortion is a free vote issue in the House of Commons and MPs are not whipped, but there are obvious patterns in voting behaviour, with Conservative MPs more likely to vote in favour of tighter time limits or further restrictions on abortion and Labour MPs more likely to vote against further restrictions (neither party is monolithic of course, there are many Labour MPs who vote against abortion or in favour of more restrictions and many Conservative MPs who vote against more restrictions. The pattern is there though).

There is NOT the same consistent pattern amongst the general public – for example, in the 2011 YouGov poll Conservative voters were slightly more likely to support a reduction in the abortion limit, in the 2012 poll the position had reversed and Labour voters were more likely to support a reduction. This is not a party partisan issue.

Also surprising are gender cross-breaks. The media coverage of the abortion issue often seems to make the assumption that women are more opposed to restrictions on abortion. Polls consistently show the opposite – that women are more likely than men to support a reduction on the abortion limit. In the 2011 YouGov poll 28% of men supported a reduction, 46% of women did. In the 2012 YouGov poll 24% of men supported a reduction, 49% of women did. In the Angus Reid poll 35% of men supported a reduction in the limit, 59% of women did. In the ICM poll 45% of men supported a reduction to 20 weeks, 59% of women did.

The idea that MPs speaking out for lower limits on abortion will alienate female voters therefore seems slightly odd, by espousing a viewpoint that is more popular amongst women than men they will drive women away? Hmm. Of course, it is possible that it is an issue that has more salience amongst women than men. It’s also possible that lots of media commentators saying a party is taking an stance unpopular with women will make a party seem unsympathetic to women anyway, regardless of the actual details of the issue – if it plays into an unsympathetic towards women narrative it can bolster that narrative almost regardless.

123 Responses to “Polling on abortion”

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    It’s true we’ve not traveled as far as the GOP but for example Conservative views on EU in particular and International legal institutions in general has become strangely dogmatic over recent years.

    That is an awful long way from Heath, McLeod, Macmilllan Butler, Boyle et al – as coincidentally are their views on education; markets in the public sector and indeed the NHS.

  2. For the Opinium poll, Ed’s net approval has risen 7% in a week – his raw approval ratings have gone from 23% to 28%.

    YouGov/Sunday Times – Con 31, Lab 45, Lib 8
    Net Approval ratings –
    Cameron -24 (+1)
    Miliband -9 (+20)
    Clegg -61 (nc)

    On raw approval ratings –
    Cameron 35 (+1)
    Miliband 40 (+12)
    Clegg 16 (+1)

    The Conservatives really have to hope that this figure is a Milibounce and not a Milimprovement.
    If Cameron exists the conference roughly where he started over the next few weeks, but Miliband continues at these sorts of levels, I’d imagine his party are going to start getting nervous.
    Obviously we’ll have to wait a few weeks – I’d give it until a couple of weeks after the Q3 GDP figures are released.

    It goes without saying that if the Q3 GDP figures aren’t above +0.4%, people will start getting nervous – but if they’re largely above that, Cameron’s growth narrative (however temporary) will pay off.

    Various leadership questions (last asked a week ago) –
    Who is the stronger leader?
    Cameron 48 (-3)
    Miliband 26 (+5)
    Cameron Lead 22 (-8)

    More decisive –
    Cameron 43 (-3)
    Miliband 28 (+7)
    Cameron Lead 15 (-10)

    More likeable –
    Cameron 40 (-1)
    Miliband 34 (+3)
    Cameron Lead 6 (-4)

    In touch with ordinary voters –
    Cameron 18 (-1)
    Miliband 46 (+6)
    Cameron Lead -28 (-7)

    More trustworthy –
    Cameron 18 (-1)
    Miliband 32 (+4)
    Cameron Lead 14 (-5)

    Clearer vision for Britain –
    Cameron 32 (-3)
    Miliband 30 (+8)
    Cameron Lead 2 (-11)
    I guess that One-Nation really resonated?

    Better strategy to get us out of recession –
    Cameron 33 (nc)
    Miliband 29 (+5)
    Cameron Lead 4 (-5)

    Who would be more competent in government? (new question)
    Cameron 38
    Miliband 31
    Cameron Lead 7

    While Miliband trails on many of the questions, he has significantly closed the gap and it’s all moving in the right direction for him.
    Although Cameron’s figures have fallen, the movement is largely from Miliband’s improvement and not his loss.

    Is the government doing a good job in these areas?
    The Economy –
    Total Good 31
    Total Bad 62
    Net -30

    The NHS –
    Good 23
    Bad 67
    Net -44

    Education –
    Good 29
    Bad 60
    Net -31

    Good 22
    Bad 61
    Net -39

    Good 22
    Bad 67
    Net -45

    Reforming Welfare
    Good 29
    Bad 61
    Net -32

    Good 14
    Bad 70
    Net -56

    These are pretty dire figures overall – but there is an interesting partisan reason for it.
    You would expect that government party supporters would be happy with the job, while opposition would be unhappy.
    While this is true of the Conservatives and Labour across all questions, except transport and immigration, the LibDems (sub-sample warning) are far closer to Labour on everything except defence.

    If LibDem voters aren’t pleased with the way the government is going, they could be more convinced that a Lib/Lab coalition would work better.

    Do you think the gap between rich and poor has got wider?
    Wider – 71
    Narrower – 4
    Same – 18

    Gap between the north and south?
    Wider – 51
    Narrower – 5
    Same – 27

    Unsurprisingly, Conservatives are most gap-sceptical and people in the North are least.

    From what you’ve seen of Ed’s speech… how do you see Miliband?
    More positively – 30
    More negatively – 7
    No difference (already positive) – 10
    No difference (already negative) – 34

    From Ed’s speech, would you say he’s more left-wing or less?
    More Left-Wing 11
    More Right-Wing 7
    No Difference 62

    How likely is it that Ed will be PM?
    Likely – 32 (+2)
    Unlikely – 54 (-3)
    Now that Ed is massively ahead in approval, there’s the Conservative talking point for why Ed will never be PM. ;)

    Labour is..
    A One-Nation party – 28
    Not – 47
    Lab voters 68 to 12

    Conservatives are..
    A One-Nation party – 14
    Not – 64
    Con voters 38 to 39

    How competent or incompetent were these governments?
    Coalition –
    Competent – 35
    Incompetent – 58
    Net -23

    Labour under Brown –
    Competent – 24
    Incompetent – 69
    Net -45

    Labour under Blair –
    Competent – 45
    Incompetent – 48
    Net -3

    Ed described the current government as “the most incompetent, hopeless, out of touch, U-turning, pledge-breaking, make it up as you go along, back of the envelope government” – how fair is this?
    Fair – 49
    Not – 40
    Net +9

    From what you have seen or heard about the story (West Coast line), who do you think is most to blame for the failure?
    Civil servants – 33
    Ministers – 45

    Was it right to suspend the civil servants?
    Right – 58
    Wrong – 15

    Do you think Justine Greening, who was Transport Secretary at the time of the process, but is now International Development Secretary, should resign?
    Should – 51
    Shouldn’t – 18
    Con voters 39 to 34
    It probably won’t happen, Cameron is fairly loyal to his ministers.

  3. “If Cameron exists the conference”
    If Cameron exits..

  4. The competency poll data is quite telling:

    Cameron’s gov:

    Con: 84/14 (+70 Competency)
    Lab: 10/88 (-78 Competency)
    Lib: 48/48 (0 Competency)

    Brown’s gov:

    Con: 3/95 (-92 Competency)
    Lab: 50/47 (+3 Competency)
    Lib: 21/76 (-55 Competency)

    Blair’s gov (prior to GB):

    Con: 23/76 (-53 Competency)
    Lab: 75/20 (+55 Competency)
    Lib: 44/51 (-7 Competency)

    So plenty of folk ignoring the facts on all sides. :)

  5. On the approval ratings themselves
    Miliband hasn’t really improved with Con voters (no surprise) – 15/76 last week, 20/74 this week
    With Lib voters, 23/69 last week, 29/60 this week.
    But with Lab voters, 60/29 last week, 77/18 this week.
    If he has finally convinced Lab voters a lot more and nobody else then he’s in a far stronger position.

  6. Latest YG has Lab ahead in all age groups though I expect this is a temporary blip for over 60s
    It seems that CON, LD and UKIP are competing for the same patch in the rest of the south, with Lab dominating in all other regions. Overall though it is likely still a steady 8% Lab lead IMHO.

    As for the big Millibounce, I wonder if BBC24 will now run scrolling banners for several days, telling us how well Ed is doing, so as to balance out their coverage when the junkpoll under-rated him?

  7. Miliband seems to be playing a ggod game at the moment, despite the detractors

    If you were in 2010 after the exit of Brown, I do not think any of the Labour Party would have expected to be in this position by 2012 – pretty united, consistent lead in the polls, leader growing well into the role etc.

    It seems every time Labour make an advancement someone always comes to say they will be doing more.

    United party – what about relations with his brother?
    10% ahead in the polls – should be 20% ahead
    Improving leader – looks like Gromit

    etc, etc

    The fact is Labour could not be expected to be doing better, even though they are still not in a great position, remember where they were coming from. Even if they cannot win the next election outright, I think they will at least have put the squeeze on the Coalition

    As to the Miliband post-conference bounce – for him he just needs to start being spoken of as credible and that is what has happened after the conference. Clearly he needs to consolidate this. At the end he does not have to be seen as better than Cameron – just a credible alternative.

    My own view is still that Labour will struggle with an OM , as the big guns of the press will be firing at them with little support apart from the Mirror. I also think that if the polls stay bad for LD and Tories into 2015 we may well see some sort of pact in order to keep Labour out.

  8. It’s really quite interesting to see the general consensus from many sources (including No 10, it seems) that Cameron has failed to detoxify his party brand. This is a real gift to Labour.

    Cameron quite rightly identified issues such as health, gay marriage and the environment as the kind of touchstone issues where he needed to demonstrate a new kind of party, whereas in economic matters and education, there was more scope to be a bit more right radical.

    His problem is that on the environmental agenda his boasts are now risible, health policy has been ensnared in the Lansley reform bill, and other issues like gay marriage have effectively exposed the less appealing core of his party.

    It looks like this conference will see a mix of reiterating the detoxification strategy along with chunks of red meat for the faithful. This is his big problem. When you are trying to change poisonous attitudes, you can’t play it like a school debating game – you are either toxic or non toxic.

    The economy still means there is an uncertain backdrop to the next election and all to play for, but so far Cameron has misjudged most of his key policies and his main challenger. Another misjudgement on the detox and he’s toast.

  9. Conservatives have come out swinging over Europe – Cameron says he’ll veto the next EU budget and Theresa May is calling for an end to freedom of movement.
    Given that the last veto was so popular, could this be the way the government gains back support?

    There is one issue – given that freedom of movement is fundamental to the EU (and previously the EEC and before that the ECSC), it’s unlikely that the Conservatives will have any say over it.
    Could this be a broken promise in the making or the preparation of an excuse for a referendum?

  10. Also, the Gender gap once again plays a massive role in Labour’s lead –
    Men –
    Con 32
    Lab 42
    Lib 9
    UKIP 9

    Women –
    Con 30
    Lab 48
    Lib 8
    UKIP 7
    We’ll have to see if there’s anything to try to woo back female voters during the conference.

  11. tingedfringe

    It’s a 10% lead for men too. He needs to win back men and women.

    The abortion discussion…I think it is perfectly possible for women to be anti-abortion and still resent men (like Hunt) preaching about it. A woman’s right to choose is just that…she doesn’t HAVE to have an abortion and it’s HER choice (not Hunt’s).

  12. Todays YG poll is mixed. People want a Labour government, they are warming to Ed Miliband, but they don’t see him as a PM yet.

    Labours lead averaging 10% is soft, but how much of this would not vote Labour if there were an election tomorrow.

  13. @ R Huckle
    “Labours lead averaging 10% is soft”
    I can’t find this phrase in the YG poll write-up , please enlighten us.

  14. I think Lab’s 10% lead is fairly solid….it’s the 4-5% on top of that that is possibly conference bounce and “soft”.

    But it could harden.

    Abortion, Boris and now phone hacking/press regulation could swamp Cameron’s (umpteenth) relaunch.

    Cameron doesn’t need a great speech, but a bad one could cost him the leadership, I think. He’d better start practising those inflections.

    The pressure was piled on Ed and against expectations he excelled. The pressure’s on DC now. His problem is similar to Ed’s but a mirror image…how to gain the centre without aggravating his right wing?

  15. @ Ozwald

    Re Labour lead soft. This is not a statement based on todays poll, but a range of polls over recent months. Many informed commentators are saying that the average Labour lead of 10% is soft. Their reasoning for this, are the polls showing leads of 6% (there have been a few) and also the polls which show a lesser lead if the circumstances were different. e.g Boris/Cable taking over as leaders.

    Simply reflecting what people are saying and I think they are probably right. I would like a solid 10% lead for Labour, but this may not be the case.

  16. @OldNat.

    “That dichotomy must exist in every society/political community.”

    I mean it’s not polarised in the same way as in the US, it’s more a spectrum than a dichotomy, with an awful lot of undecideds.


    “Yes, medically speaking it is possible to deliver on demand after viability.

    Women may not be offered this option but you sure can do it.”

    That’s true, but my point is that if we’re not prepared to countenance that as widely available option, as a society (and there are many good reasons for this, the pain, suffering and disability that would result, the sheer expense- as you alluded to premature babies are hugely expensive), then using it as a marker for when abortion should no longer be allowed doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and also fundamentally undermines the claim that bodily autonomy is viewed as paramount.

    “Assuming a ‘normal’ pregnancy & an elective ceasarean, the doctors will choose to perform this as early as 35 weeks because not waiting until 38-42 weeks gives a better outcome for the mother.”

    I have no idea where you’re getting this from. 35 weeks is not really term, there’s no way that doctors would choose to deliver at this stage as a matter of routine, with no specific indication:

    h ttp://preemies.about.com/od/preemiehealthproblems/a/LatePretermBirth.htm

    At least in the US, they’re moving towards not doing elective deliveries before 39 weeks:

    h ttp://www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/medicalresources_39weeks.html

    Either way the risk/benefit calculations made in a medical setting at or close to term, don’t change the fact that elective delivery at, say, 25 weeks would never be allowed as an alternative to abortion, and that from this I’d argue that viability as the one true line in the sand doesn’t make sense.

    “My over-arching principle is that a woman shouldn’t have to continue with any pregnancy when she doesn’t want to. ”

    I understand that that’s the position you’re arguing from, I’m just struggling to follow how all your recent comments add up to a cogent argument in favour of that position.

    “And sooner or later, medical science will reach the point where foetuses can survive & thrive into babies in a way which makes pregnancy pretty much unecessary; that’ll give us all a different moral/ ethical/ economic dilemma to argue about.”

    That’s science fiction stuff. Even in the event that scientists managed to perfect an artificial womb- which is very far from certain, and at least decades in the future, if it’s even possible- the idea that they’d be able perform embryo rescue and transfer from a natural pregnancy to an artificial one, is far beyond the realms of likelihood. The procedure required (and I’m struggling to think of any plausible mechanism for this), would be highly invasive. Accidental pregnancies would still be an issue, unless you’re suggesting that women are going to give up their uteruses completely and rely on artificial reproduction as a matter of course, which is again, preposterous. And this is before we get to the ethical problems that would be involved in the research to perfect any of these procedures.

    “It will make me sad if it is only rich women who have a choice about whether to have a natural pregnancy or to substitute technology.”

    Any all-artificial reproductive process, in the event that it’s even possible, is going to be wildly expensive. The idea that society is going to provide it to every woman electively, or that individual women are going to resort to it as a matter of routine, is fantasy. If it’s ever a practical possibility it’s going to be limited to a small number of women who’ve lost their uteruses, and then there’s going to be a huge controversy over funding it.

    None of this addresses the ethical dilemmas surrounding pregnancy, now.

  17. Is Labour`s lead really soft as it has lasted for more than a year with 10 point leads since March/April and delivering a 7% lead in the local elections?What would be a solid lead?

  18. Smukesh,
    I suspect no time frame for a lead will ever be solid for Labour critics.
    If we’re still at 10% at the end of 2014, the argument will be that the lead will collapse by May 2015.

  19. The One Nation questions are interesting.

    Sub-sample caveats accepted, a slim majority of Tory supporters do not see the Tories as ‘a party that can bring the country together as “One nation” ‘.

    What to make of that?

  20. @SoCalLiberal – “Does he like pie?”

    I think he does:


    Before the debate, your worry was that Obama might come over too cocky, well he didn’t do that. RAF I think said that Obama didn’t need to hug Romney like some long lost cousin… in 2008 McCain appeared to refuse to shake Obama’s outstretched hand after one of the debates, and instead slapped him on the upper arm as if to swat him away – it didn’t do him any good.

    These debates are always fraught with danger, as it stood Romney had nothing to lose, Obama had everything to lose and so was concentrating on no missteps.

    The eyebrows raised/insincere smile/wheedling tone with which Romney confronted Obama was so patronising.
    I actually admire Obama for keeping his cool under the circumstances, but during final Boca Raton debate (October 22) he will be justified in taking a different line.

    The Town Hall debate (October 16) in Hempstead will see Romney facing off against citizens… the Ipsos poll shows there has been a bounce for Romney, but underlying perceptions (likability/understands people like me/good person etc) have not changed.


  21. Only political wonks and religious people would think this is an issue that should be decided by “people power”. Surely having accepted that abortion should be legal and women should be free to make such a decision the only issue must be the date by which time it takes place. This is a scientific and medical issue it should take place no later than the earliest date where medical science can sustain the aborted foetus to the point of viable self sustaining life. Of course this cant be fixed with any certainty but a cushion of doubt should be built in. Decide on the scientific evaluation procedure and formula to calculate the latest date, review every 10 years to allow for scientific progress. Stop the politicians pretending to be masters of the universe.

  22. @ Hannah

    I did deal with how things are now. It’s you who can’t.

  23. The abortion question is a very tricky one. It is best dealt with by women themselves.

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