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MAY 2004

Independent Voter Support for Ending Bush Limits on Stem Cell Lines is Strong

Two out of three voters in 18 key states support overriding the Bush administration's limits on federal government funding for stem cell research, according to a new survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates on behalf of the Results for America (RFA) project of the Civil Society Institute. The survey also shows that a crucial bloc—independent voters—support funding for stem cells over and above the Bush restrictions by a wide 58-point margin (70 percent to 12 percent).

The 18 states covered in the RFA survey are Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and West Virginia.

In August 2001, the Bush administration established a new restriction on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The restriction means that research on stem cell lines created before August 2001 can receive funding, but funding is prohibited for research on stem cell lines developed after that date. The new survey results show that voters overwhelmingly oppose this restriction and favor funding for research using newer stem cell lines. Fully 65 percent of voters support expanding federal government funding for stem cell lines created after August 2001, including 50 percent who feel strongly, compared with only 17 percent who support maintaining the Bush administration's August 2001 restrictions.

Civil Society Institute President Pam Solo said: “Stem cell research is something that Americans want to see advanced in an ethical and expeditious manner, using fertilized eggs from fertility clinics destined to be discarded for research. Hundreds of millions of Americans are touched directly or indirectly by chronic illnesses and physical conditions that could be cured or treated more effectively as a result of embryonic stem cell research. The vast majority of Americans, regardless of religious affiliation or political party, understand the need for moving ahead with stem cell research. As a student of theology and the parent of a child with Type 1 diabetes, I find these survey findings to be hopeful both on moral grounds and in terms of the prospects for life-saving research.”

Nearly all voters have a personal connection to the issue. More than two-thirds (68 percent) have some experience with cancer, and more than half (58 percent) have been affected by heart disease. Aside from these two more widespread diseases, 49 percent of voters report having a close personal friend or family member who has suffered from Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, juvenile diabetes, or spinal cord injury—and thus could be affected by medical research on stem cells. Almost nine out of 10 voters (86 percent) report having a family member or close friend who potentially could benefit from stem cell research.

Voters strongly support federal funding for medical research. Even when compared with other items such as national defense, transportation, or education, 59 percent of voters say that federal funding for medical research should be a high priority, including 31 percent who say that it should be a very high priority. Another 35 percent say that funding for medical research should be a moderate priority. Just 6 percent do not see medical research funding as a priority for the federal government. Support is higher among Democrats (64 percent) than among Republicans (46 percent), and is highest among the politically important independents (67 percent).

Independents strongly favor stem cell research. Democrats and Republicans tend to have different views on embryonic stem cell research in general. Democrats favor stem cell research by a 46-point margin (65 percent to 19 percent), whereas Republicans oppose stem cell research by a narrower nine-point margin (47 percent to 38 percent). However, independents have a view that is much closer to that of Democrats than Republicans. Independent voters favor stem cell research by a 32-point margin (55 percent to 23 percent).

Support grows with more information. Support for embryonic stem cell research increases 13 percentage points to 66 percent when people are informed that couples are donating unwanted embryos that otherwise would be discarded. After hearing a more detailed description of embryonic stem cell research and the diseases it can help cure, support grows even more. Overall, three in four (76 percent) voters support stem cell research after hearing the following description: “Embryonic stem cells are special cells that can develop into every type of cell in the human body. The stem cells are extracted from frozen embryos in fertility clinics, donated by couples that no longer want or need the embryo. This process destroys the embryo. These stem cells can then reproduce on their own, creating what is called a ‘line' of stem cells that many researchers can work with. Scientists believe that there is a good chance that stem cells can be developed into cures or treatments for diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, juvenile diabetes, and spinal cord injuries.”

Arguments for expanded stem cell research are more persuasive than the arguments against it. Two-thirds (65 percent) of voters agree that our government should support rather than stand in the way of research that will help ease the suffering of more than 100 million Americans who are suffering from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other diseases and conditions. A similar level of (63 percent) of voters are convinced by the argument that if embryos that donors no longer need are not used for research, fertility clinics will simply discard them with no benefit to medical research. An equal proportion find the support of the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Science, National Institutes of Health, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Alzheimer's Association of research on new stem cell lines a convincing reason to lift the August 2001 restrictions on federal funding.#

Full survey findings are available online at http://www.ResultsForAmerica.org.

Education Update, Inc.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2004.