Opinions mixed on proposed abortion rules, but same-sex marriage opposition softens, and 53% oppose gas tax hike

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Tennesseans favor some, but not all, of several proposed abortion rules pending in the state Legislature, the latest MTSU Poll finds.

On two other issues, meanwhile, the Jan. 25-27 poll of 600 randomly selected Tennessee adults found 55 percent opposed to permitting same-sex marriage and 53 percent opposed to increasing Tennessee’s tax on gasoline.

Ken Blake, director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University, said attitudes toward abortion regulation in Tennessee appear nuanced and strongly tied to religious identity. The poll’s margin of error is 4 percentage points.

“Across every form of abortion regulation we asked about in the poll, the proportion in favor of it came in more than 10 percentage points higher among evangelical Christians than among non-evangelicals,” Blake said.

“But both groups have reservations about the same things. For example, evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike are less likely to favor describing an ultrasound image to a woman who has refused to look at it than to favor requiring her doctor to talk to her about abortion risks, benefits and alternatives.”

The poll found that, among all Tennesseans:

  • 57 percent favor requiring a woman’s doctor to discuss abortion risks, benefits and alternatives with her before she undergoes an abortion, 27 percent oppose, and 16 percent don’t know or refused.
  • 48 percent favor requiring a woman to undergo an ultrasound one to three days before obtaining an abortion, 36 percent oppose, and 16 percent don’t know or refused.
  • 52 percent favor requiring that a woman be offered an opportunity to view the image of an ultrasound she is undergoing prior to an abortion, 31 percent oppose, and 17 percent don’t know or declined to answer.
  • 35 percent favor requiring that the image of an ultrasound a woman is undergoing prior to an abortion be described aloud if the woman declines to look at it, 48 percent oppose, and 17 percent don’t know or refused.
  • 42 percent favor requiring that audio of any heartbeat detected during a pre-abortion ultrasound be played aloud for the woman to hear, 43 percent oppose, and 15 percent don’t know or declined to answer.
  • 22 percent think abortion should be “legal in all circumstances,” 49 percent think it should be legal “under certain circumstances,” and 22 percent say it should be “illegal in all circumstances.” The rest don’t know or didn’t answer.

Breakdowns by evangelical identity and gender are as follows:

“The largest difference between evangelicals and non-evangelicals was over requiring that audio of any heartbeat detected during a pre-abortion ultrasound be played aloud,” Blake said. “More than twice as many evangelicals (54 percent) expressed support for that measure compared to non-evangelicals (24 percent).”

The smallest gap between evangelicals and non-evangelicals appeared on the question of whether to require that doctors describe abortion risks, benefits and alternatives to women who are seeking an abortion. Sixty-two percent of evangelicals favored such a rule, as did 51 percent of non-evangelicals.

Attitudinal differences between men and women on abortion regulation, by contrast, were all non-significant, Blake said.
“Men in our sample tended to be more in favor of abortion regulation than the women in our sample, but the percentage point differences were all in the single digits and not large enough to suggest a similar difference between men and women in all of Tennessee,” he said.

Majority against same-sex marriage, but opposition softening

Meanwhile, 55 percent of state residents oppose “allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally,” still a majority but a drop from the 64 percent opposition observed in the spring 2014 MTSU Poll. Thirty-two percent favor allowing such couples to marry, and the rest aren’t sure or declined to answer.

Here, too, evangelical identity makes the biggest difference. Among evangelicals, 70 percent oppose and 19 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Among non-evangelicals, only 29 percent oppose allowing same-sex marriages, and 55 percent favor allowing them.

Jason Reineke, associate director of the MTSU Poll, said the decline in opposition to same-sex marriage is notable.

“It’s too soon to say whether the softening opposition to same-sex marriage that polls show happening around the country is showing up in Tennessee, but it’s a number that will be interesting to watch after this summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to release its ruling on same-sex marriage,” Reineke said.

Gas tax increase opposition at 53 percent

Fifty-three percent of Tennesseans oppose raising the state’s gas tax to fund better roads and bridges, while 26 percent support raising the tax, and 21 percent are undecided. Given its error margin, the poll could not rule out the possibility that opposition is as low as 49 percent.

Support is highest among well-informed political moderates and liberals, lower among well-informed conservatives, and lowest among the least well-informed, regardless of political orientation.


Interviews for the poll were conducted by Issues & Answers Network Inc., which completed 600 telephone surveys among a random sample of Tennessee residents aged 18 and over.

Data was collected using Tennessee statewide RDD sample with a mix of 80 percent landline and 20 percent cell phones. The average interview length was 13 minutes.

Quotas by gender and geographic region were implemented to ensure the sampled respondents were representative of Tennessee’s adult population. U.S. Census Bureau data were used to determine the gender distribution each of Tennessee’s Grand Divisions: East, Middle and West.
The survey’s margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points, meaning that we are 95 percent confident that the actual result lies within 4 percentage points (in either direction) of the result our sample produced.

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