Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

October 2, 2017

Attitudes toward abortion and gun laws are not well correlated in the public

Filed under: abortion,guns — Razib Khan @ 8:01 pm

Because of recent tragic events there has been some talk about the relationship between abortion rights and gun laws. Basically, the idea is that those who are pro-life also reject restrictions on guns.

I don’t see a strong relationship. In the GSS I limited the data to 2010 and later. I looked at the variables GUNLAW, ABANY and ABRAPE. If it’s not clear the latter two variables relate to abortion, and the first to gun permits. Though pro-life people are more skeptical of gun permits, the difference is minor:

In 2006 a question was asked if semi-automatic weapons should be allowed to be sold to the public. The qualitative result was similar in that there was no major relationship to abortion; about 15% of the public no matter their opinion on abortion favored selling semi-automatic rifles to the public.

Obviously, this is surprising if you follow politics. But politics in the United States is about coalitions, and the politicians who favor liberalism in gun rights do not favor liberalism in abortion rights, and vice versa, because of the interest group alignments. Nevertheless, we need to be cautious about assuming there is some deep philosophical relationship that bubbles up from the grassroots. There isn’t.

May 25, 2017

August 21, 2012

Who rejects right to abortion in cases of rape?

Filed under: abortion,Data Analysis,GSS,Todd Akin — Razib Khan @ 10:56 pm

It’s basically impossible to avoid hearing about Todd Akin right now. My Twitter and Facebook feeds are kind of swamped. But it did make me wonder: what percentage of Americans reject abortion in cases of rape and incest? The GSS has a handy variable, ABRAPE, which asks respondents about the possibility of abortion if a woman gets pregnant as a result of rape (let’s stipulate that it’s possible to get pregnant as a result of rape!). I also limited the sample to the year 2000 and later, and non-Hispanic whites (to clear out confounds). Demographic breakdowns below….

Before people start complaining, the scale below goes from 0% to 50%, NOT 0% to 100%!


December 9, 2010

Polarization on abortion in the USA

Filed under: abortion,data,Data Analysis,GSS,Politics — Razib Khan @ 2:06 am

Some comments below made me want to look at attitudes toward abortion in the USA by ideology over the decades. I know that political party polarization on social issues has played out mostly over the past 20 years or, but I assumed that this was less evident in ideology (mostly, liberal Republicans became Democrats and conservative Democrats became Republicans). I looked at the ABANY question:

Please tell me whether or not you think it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtaina legal abortion if:The woman wants it for any reason?

Then I combined years to produce four decades. 1977-1980 = 70s, 1981-1990 = 80s, 1991-2000 = 90s, and 2001-2008 = 00s. I compared this with the POLVIEWS variable, which goes from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. I constrained the sample to whites to control somewhat for population confounds. Below are the results by decade in various formats.




Raw data, % who say “yes” to abortion for any reason:

Decade Extreme Liberal Liberal Slightly Liberal Moderate Slightly Conservative Conservative Extremely Conservative
1970s 62 49 42 34 36 33 31
1980s 66 56 49 38 38 30 19
1990s 72 66 59 43 40 26 22
2000s 79 69 55 42 36 21 26

As you can see, the gap between extremes went from 30 points in the 70s to 50 points in the 00s.

April 19, 2010

1980-2000, the age of death & feticide

Poking around the GSS for another reason I stumbled onto something weird. Something which I’d seen hints of, or seen referred to before, but never followed up myself. It seems that support for abortion-on-demand and the death penalty peaked concurrently in the span between 1980-2000. This is evident in two GSS variables, ABANY and CAPPUN, which ask if you support a woman’s right to an abortion for any reason and the death penalty for murder. Additionally, I decided to look at attitudes toward homosexuality using HOMOSEX as a reference as a point of contrast. Unlike abortion or the death penalty attitudes toward homosexuality have been changing in the same direction for the past 30 years. Additionally, the magnitude of the change seems to be much greater than in regards to the other two controversial social issues, and especially abortion, which has exhibited notable stability.

I was particularly interested in differences by religion, so  I limited the sample to whites and broke it down by Protestant, Catholic, Jew and None. To reduce sample size volatility I clustered by decade, so that “1970s” is inclusive of every year in the 1970s that the GSS asked the question for that variable.




The only thing I note beyond the concurrency is that the more socially liberal groups, Jews for example, seem to exhibit more fluctuation by decade. Conservatives are conservative in part because they reflect older norms on issues where they are conservative. The issues which defined liberal vs. conservative in the 1960s, for example attitudes toward desegregation, are no longer salient because conservatives how now aligned themselves with liberals (there are other issues where the reverse may be true, especially when it comes to the failure of Great Society. I suspect that many, though not all, 1960s liberals would admit that AFDC as it was implemented before the Clinton era reform was not a success in defeating the culture of poverty). It is also notable that in the 1980s Jews were more pro-death penalty than Catholics or those with no religion. I think this might have to do with the massive urban crime wave which was peaking back then. I remember how much preparation for street crime people went through in the 1980s when visiting New York City. Jewish concentration in large urban centers where violent street crime was common might explain the shift toward the death penalty.

Next, I wanted to compare the relationship of support for death penalty and abortion rights. The columns below indicate those who favor or oppose capital punishment for murder, and the rows indicate support for or opposition to abortion on demand. At the bottom you also see a ratio of those who are pro-choice and pro-life among those who support to the death penalty.

Favor Oppose
Yes 30% 7%
No 51% 12%
Favor Oppose
Yes 31% 6%
No 45% 19%
Favor Oppose
Yes 55% 23%
No 21% 2%

Favor Oppose
Yes 44% 23%
No 28% 6%
(Pro-choice support death penalty)/(Pro-life support death penalty)
Protestant 1
Catholic 1.16
Jew 0.87
None 0.89

So first, it seems that among Roman Catholics being pro-life suggests a small but significant tendency to oppose capital punishment above expectation. The seamless garment isn’t a total illusion, though do note that pro-choice and pro-death penalty Catholics still outnumber anti-death penalty anti-abortion Catholics. The death penalty for murderers is really popular. Among Protestants the two views seem independent, as there wasn’t a correlation in either direction. In contrast, Jews and those with no religion go the other direction as Catholics. Those who are pro-choice are more likely to oppose the death penalty, and those who are pro-life are more likely to support the death penalty. Also, look at the really huge ratio between the proportion of Jews who support the death penalty and abortion rights, over half, and those who oppose both, around 1 in 50!

Note: I limited the data to the year 2000 and after, and there isn’t much of a change in direction, though the magnitude is tweaked a bit.

Addendum: Abortion rates have been dropping since 1990.

November 15, 2009

Fake fact: Catholics care about abortion more than non-Catholics

Filed under: abortion,Catholics,Culture,data,Fake Facts — David Hume @ 9:03 pm

Political punditry is rife with “fake facts.” Basically, empirical assertions which are false but assumed to be true. Perhaps the readership of political journalism is stupid. Perhaps the writers of political journalism are stupid. Perhaps both. No idea. So a new “series,” which I will label “fake fact,” facts assumed to be true by the stupid and ignorant which are wrong, and have been shown to be wrong by political scientists for a long time.

Consider this Politico article, Dems may lose Catholics over abortion. Here’s a fact:

According to exit polls, President Barack Obama won the support of 53 percent of Catholic voters, a seven-point increase over the showing of the Democrats’ 2004 nominee, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a Catholic. Among Latino Catholics, who are often more conservative than their white counterparts on social issues, Obama did even better, winning more than two-thirds of their support, a 14-point improvement over Kerry’s totals, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.

Obama beat Kerry by by:
5 points for males
6 points for women
2 points for whites
14 points for Latinos
12 points for the young 18-29
5 points for less than $50 K
6 points for more than $50 K

etc. etc. He swung the whole electorate, as one would expect. As for Catholic views about abortion, ABANY for the GSS below (Yes = yes to abortion on demand)…. (all except blacks are after year 2000)






Of course, one can object that a lot of these people “aren’t real Catholics.” In some circumstances this is an important consideration, but since I believe all religion is fiction anyhow I will take people at their word as to their religion.


November 14, 2009

Creationism vs. Abortion, Left, Right, elites and the masses

Filed under: abortion,class,Culture,data,Evolution — David Hume @ 3:11 pm

As a follow up to the post below on Sarah Palin and Creationism, it strikes me that those on the Right & Republicans seem more divided and emotive on this issue than abortion. More specifically, libertarian and secular Rightists seem more likely to express their displeasure about Creationism than abortion. Why? A lot of it probably has to do with identity markers. Even if you are a pro-choice Republican, you know that the party’s position is pro-life, just as if you are a pro-life Democrat you know that the party’s position is pro-choice. Some of this was evident with the Stupak Amendment, where liberals blew a gasket. I personally support abortion rights and do not believe that a first trimester abortion should be made illegal. But I can understand why those who are pro-life would fight to prevent public funds, or the appearance of public funds, from going toward the provision of abortion. In contrast, many Left-liberals seem to be complaining about the amendment as if is a horrible deprivation of basic female health services, like a pap test. This is an instance of Left-liberals living in their own ideological bubbles, even if most Americans do not think abortion is murder, they do not conceive of it is as just another health service. (well, that’s obvious, as there are whole lobbies who are focused on abortion, pro and anti)

Moving to Creationism, there never seems to be a debate about this issue among Democrats. And yet black Americans are by and large Creationist. The difference between the political parties and ideologies isn’t that great. My own hunch is that the difference here between the two parties has to do with the degree of unanimity among the elites.

To explore these issue I looked to the GSS. In particular, the variables:


For PARTYID I looked only at Democrats and Republicans. For POLVIEWS I only looked at liberals and conservatives. For DEGREE, I created two categories, those with 4 year college degrees or higher, and those without. ABANY & EVOLVED are both dichotomous yes/true vs. no/false. I also limited to the sample to 1998 and later. Here are the exact questions for ABANY & EVOLVED:

Please tell me whether or not you think it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion if: The woman wants it for any reason?

Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. (Is that true or false?)

The table below shows the difference between college and non-college educated among the two political parties and ideologies when it comes to evolution & abortion:

College vs. No College Degree

Evolution True
Percent Difference Ratio
Democrat 30.2 1.62
Republican 16.1 1.44
Liberal 31.3 1.58
Conservative 13.9 1.4
Abortion – Yes
Percent Difference Ratio
Democrat 27.1 1.67
Republican 6.2 1.21
Liberal 26.7 1.54
Conservative 3.3 1.13

The data above show that there is a difference between college educated and non-college educated in both variables, both as a raw percentage difference and as ratio. In both cases those with college degrees support abortion on demand and accept that human evolution is true more than those without college degrees. But, the difference between the elites and the masses among the Democrats/liberals is greater than among Republicans/conservatives, in particular on abortion, where among Republicans/conservatives there is convergence. Though the Republican/conservative education gap isn’t as large as for Democrats/liberals on evolution, it is far greater than for abortion.

The following table now compares the ratios of opinions within a particular category (e.g., college educated Republicans). The closer the ratio is to 1, the more balanced the opinion (i.e., 50% support abortion on demand and 50% oppose abortion on demand in a particular class means a ratio of 1).

Evolution Abortion
No College Degree
Democrat 0.95 0.69
Republican 0.57 0.41
Liberal 1.19 0.97
Conservative 0.54 0.35
College Degree+ Democrat 3.72 2.11
Republican 1.11 0.54
Liberal 5.99 3.15
Conservative 0.96 0.41

I put in bold ratios between 0.8 and 1.2, which indicates a balance of opinions within a demographic segment. When it comes to evolution, liberals and Democrats who are not college educated are divided, as are liberals without college degrees on  abortion on demand. When it comes to evolution, college educated Republicans and conservatives are divided! This to me explains why there is no controversy about evolution in the Democratic party, the Democratic elite is totally unified, and can ignore the masses. By contrast, the Republican masses are unified against evolution, while the elites are split. When it comes to abortion Democrat and liberal elites are exceptional in their support for abortion-on-demand. This goes back to my suspicion that the peculiar manner in which pro-choice Democrats talk about abortion emerges out of an ideological bubble where they simply never encounter anyone who might think that an abortion is a more morally charged health service than say a biopsy.


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