The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Support for Planned Parenthood is down, but support for its federal funding is not

Planned Parenthood was once extremely popular. In 1989, A Gallup poll found that 82 percent Americans who had heard of the group viewed it in a favorable light, while only 11 percent viewed it unfavorably. In polling terms, that's basically a consensus.

But those days are long gone, and the latest polls suggest that this summer's controversy over Planned Parenthood's handling of fetal tissue from abortions used in medical research played a role.

Quinnipiac University has tracked Planned Parenthood's popularity in three polls since 2012, allowing for a rough before-and-after comparison of the group's image. In February 2012, 55 percent of registered voters had a favorable view of the group, while 22 percent viewed it unfavorably. That margin narrowed to 43 46 percent favorable to 38 30 percent unfavorable in August and 44 43 percent to 39 38 percent in September.

What's more, the latest Quinnipiac survey shows dimmer views of Planned Parenthood than other public polls tracked by and the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.

[Conservatives wonder: Why aren’t Planned Parenthood’s poll numbers falling?]

Planned Parenthood is at the center of congressional Republicans' ire after an antiabortion-rights group released clandestinely taped videos this summer showing Planned Parenthood officials casually talking about fetal tissue.

The videos implied that the officials were illegally selling the tissue for profit; Planned Parenthood officials apologized for their tone but said that the videos were heavily edited and that they did nothing wrong, as donating tissue for research is legal.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards defended her organization at a contentious congressional hearing Tuesday, and many congressional budget experts expect House conservatives to mount an effort to cut off the organization from federal funding in a looming December budget battle.

But whatever hit Planned Parenthood's image has taken, it's on firmer ground with the issue of federal funding; majorities or pluralities have supported federal funding for the group in every public poll this year, and the share willing to risk a government shutdown over the issue was even smaller than those who opposed the funding.

It's not clear whether the current debate has had much impact on the funding question. The September Quinnipiac survey found that support for cutting off funding was 10 percentage points higher than in 2012 (41 percent vs. 31 percent), but an August CNN/ORC poll found that support was a statistically insignificant three points lower than in 2011 (31 percent vs. 34 percent).

But the broad trajectory of public opinion since the late 1980s is not good for Planned Parenthood. The organization's image has shifted from an overwhelmingly popular provider of women's health-care services to one at the center of the nation's fierce partisan battles.

Amber Phillips and Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report. 

Additional links to the polls cited in this post: QuinnipiacPew, NBC/WSJ, CBS/NYT, CNN/ORC, Fox News, Monmouth.