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UW Survey: Wyomingites Take Stronger Pro-life Position

April 24, 2015

Wyomingites’ attitudes toward abortion are shifting toward a pro-life position, according to a University of Wyoming survey.

Consistently, slightly fewer than half of respondents in the UW Election Year Surveys have taken an anti-abortion or pro-life position, while slightly more than half favor a more accepting position on abortion, or a pro-choice position.

“This distribution is not greatly different from opinion about abortion at the national level,” says Oliver Walter, emeritus professor of political science at UW. “However, over the past couple of decades, Wyoming opinion has been edging toward pro-life sentiment.”

The UW Election Year Survey has used a four-part question to determine Wyoming attitudes on abortion: Never permit an abortion; permit only in case of rape, incest or health of the mother; permit women to demonstrate need other than rape, incest or health of the mother; and leave it up to the personal choice of the woman. The first two responses are considered pro-life or anti-abortion, while the latter two are considered pro-choice.

To compare changes in Wyoming opinion on abortion, an average of results from the 1990, 1992 and 1994 surveys was compared to responses from the 2010, 2012 and 2014 pre-election surveys. Pro-life sentiment has increased from 37 percent to 45 percent, while the pro-choice average has declined from a substantial majority of 67 percent to a bare majority of 55 percent.

Walter attributes much of this change to a substantial shift toward the anti-abortion position among registered Republicans. In the early 1990s, a majority of both Republicans and Democrats took a pro-choice position. Republicans favored the pro-choice position -- 63 percent to 38 percent. In the last three Election Year Surveys, those Republicans favoring the pro-choice positon fell to 44 percent. Registered independents also moved toward the anti-abortion position.

Registered Democrats, on the other hand, moved to a slightly more pro-choice position from 71 percent pro-choice to the current 79 percent.

The result of these changes is a much greater political polarization as the difference between Republicans and Democrats widens. The percentage difference between the parties in the early 1990s was about 10 percent. In the most recent three surveys, the difference is 34 percent.

Other than party affiliation, religion is a good predictor of opinion on abortion. In the latest surveys, those Wyomingites who responded that they were not members of a religious group or denomination were firmly in favor of the pro-choice position, 74 percent to 26 percent. Those who indicated they belonged to a particular denomination favored the anti-abortion responses 59 to 42 percent.

Attitudes varied considerably among various religious denominations. In the three most recent surveys, Mormons were the most opposed to the pro-choice position. Eight out of 10 expressed pro-life position. On the other hand, a solid majority of Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians answered in the pro-choice direction. A majority of Catholics, Baptists and Lutherans favored the pro-life approach.

The UW Election Year Survey has been conducted before every general election since 1972. The statewide telephone survey of 768 Wyoming residents was conducted in October by UW’s Survey Research Center and was sponsored by the Department of Political Science, Wyoming Public Radio and the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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