Support for abortion slips ... because Obama is pro-choice?

Americans are evenly-divided on abortion in a new Pew poll, with a slim majority now against abortion.

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Americans are taking a tougher stance on abortion, a new survey finds, perhaps in response to having elected a pro-choice president in Barack Obama.

Since 2008, the share of Americans saying abortion should be legal has declined and public opinion on the issue is now evenly divided, according to a newly released poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & The Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

A nearly even split

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Some 45 percent of those surveyed say abortion should be illegal in most cases. That is an increase of 4 points from the previous year. Some 47 percent of the population says abortion should be legal in most cases, down 7 points from 2008. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent.

Pew said one of the largest declines in support for legal abortion occurred among white, non-Hispanic Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly. Support for abortion also fell substantially among Democratic men, but not among Democratic women.

While the survey did not isolate a single cause for the shift in public sentiment, Pew said, “The pattern of changes suggests that the election of a pro-choice Democrat as president may be a contributing factor.”

A tougher stance

The tougher attitude was also apparent on other abortion-related issues, Pew said. For example, four in ten of those surveyed now say they favor making it more difficult to get an abortion, up from 35 percent who took that position in 2007. There also has been an increase of 6 points in those who say it would be good to reduce the number of abortions. Some 65 percent of those surveyed now hold that view.

Pew found that the abortion issue looms larger for Republicans than Democrats. Overall, only 15 percent of American see abortion as a critical issue for the country. The share of liberal Democrats who say abortion is a critical issue has dropped from 34 percent in 2006 to 8 percent this year.  Among conservative Republicans, the decline has been much smaller -- from 35 percent who saw the issue as critical in 2006 to 26 percent today.

The Pew data tracks with trends found by other pollsters. For example, a May 2009 Gallup Poll found that 51 percent of Americans now call themselves “pro-life” on the abortion issue while 42 percent say they are “pro-choice.” Gallup said this was the first time a majority of American adults identified themselves as pro-life since the firm began asking the question in 1995.

Sure of themselves

Pew pointed to one irony. While there is strong support for finding a middle ground on abortion, most Americans are quite certain their views on the issue are correct. Only one quarter of those surveyed said they ever wonder about their views on abortion.

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