Poll: No Role for Government in Schiavo Case

Americans broadly and strongly disapprove of federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, with sizable majorities saying Congress is overstepping its bounds for political gain.

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

The public, by 63 percent-28 percent, supports the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, and by a 25-point margin opposes a law mandating federal review of her case. Congress passed such legislation and President Bush signed it early today.

That legislative action is distinctly unpopular: Not only do 60 percent oppose it, more -- 70 percent -- call it inappropriate for Congress to get involved in this way. And by a lopsided 67 percent-19 percent, most think the elected officials trying to keep Schiavo alive are doing so more for political advantage than out of concern for her or for the principles involved.

This ABC News poll also finds that the Schiavo case has prompted an enormous level of personal discussion: Half of Americans say that as a direct result of hearing about this case, they've spoken with friends or family members about what they'd want done if they were in a similar condition. Nearly eight in 10 would not want to be kept alive.

Intensity

In addition to the majority, the intensity of public sentiment is also on the side of Schiavo's husband, who has fought successfully in the Florida courts to remove her feeding tube. And intensity runs especially strongly against congressional involvement.

Included among the 63 percent who support removing the feeding tube are 42 percent who "strongly" support it -- twice as many as strongly oppose it. And among the 70 percent who call congressional intervention inappropriate are 58 percent who hold that view strongly -- an especially high level of strong opinion.

GOP Groups

Views on this issue are informed more by ideological and religious views than by political partisanship. Republicans overall look much like Democrats and independents in their opinions.

But two core Republican groups -- conservatives and evangelical Protestants -- are more divided: Fifty-four percent of conservatives support removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, compared with seven in 10 moderates and liberals. And evangelical Protestants divide about evenly -- 46 percent are in favor of removing the tube, 44 percent opposed. Among non-evangelical Protestants, 77 percent are in favor -- a huge division between evangelical and mainline Protestants.

Conservatives and evangelicals also are more likely to support federal intervention in the case, although it doesn't reach a majority in either group. Indeed, conservative Republicans oppose involving the federal courts, by 57 percent-41 percent.

Conservatives and evangelicals hold these views even though most people in both groups -- 73 percent and 68 percent, respectively -- say that if they personally were in this condition, they would not want to be kept alive.


Should Feeding Tube Be Removed?
Support Oppose
Non-evangelical 77% 18
Evangelical 46 44
Catholics 63 26
Liberals 68 24
Moderates 69 22
Conservatives 54 40
Democrats 65 25
Independents 63 28
Republicans 61 34
Conservative Reps. 55 40

Regardless of their preference on the Schiavo case, about two-thirds of conservatives and evangelicals alike call congressional intervention inappropriate. And majorities in both groups, as in others, are skeptical of the motivations of the political leaders seeking to extend Schiavo's life.


Should Federal Government Intervene?
Support Oppose
Non-evangelical 26% 71
Evangelical 44 50
Catholics 38 56
Liberals 34 62
Moderates 29 67
Conservatives 48 49
Democrats 34 63
Independents 31 61
Republicans 39 58
Conservative Reps. 41 57

Preference and Experience

Public views on this issue are informed in part by Americans' preferences for their own care if they were in a similar situation: Sixteen percent would want life support; as noted, 78 percent would not. While still a very large majority, that's down from 87 percent in an ABC News/Washington Poll last week.

Among people who favor removing Schiavo's life support, 94 percent say that's also what they would want for themselves. By contrast, people who oppose removing the feeding tube in Schiavo's case divide about evenly on what they'd want for themselves: Forty-five percent would want life support, 41 percent would not.

Some speak from experience: A third of Americans say they've had friends or family members who passed away in a hospital or other care facility after life support was removed; nearly two in 10 say they were personally involved in that decision. People who've been personally involved in such a decision are more apt than others to support removing Schiavo's feeding tube and to say they personally would not want life support.

Age and Attention

There are differences among age groups. Senior citizens are more apt than others to strongly support removing Schiavo's feeding tube, and also more apt to oppose federal intervention. And young adults are less likely to say that, as a result of the Schiavo case, they've discussed their own wishes with family or friends.

Just under six in 10 Americans are closely following the Schiavo case, including 16 percent who've been following it very closely -- a respectable albeit not overwhelming level of public attention. Young adults, age 18 to 29, are less than half as likely as their elders to be following the case closely -- just 27 percent are doing so. There's an irony in that result: Schiavo herself was stricken at age 26.

Methodology

This ABC News poll was conducted by telephone March 20, 2005, among a random national sample of 501 adults. The results have a 4.5-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

You can find more ABC News polls in our Poll Vault.

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