Thursday, January 05, 2006

Polling stem cells

I've often felt, and other smart people have agreed, that stem cells could be a tremendous wedge issue for Democrats. It's easy to show how the research could save lives, most people know someone with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, or some other disease that may one day be treatable with stem cell derivatives, so it seems real. The argument against is fairly nebulous, and the trade-off is lives of loved ones versus an 8 cell ball that would get incinerated otherwise, and people like that trade-off, if it's presented to them.

That's why I'm encouraged by this poll conducted by a Republican pollster. The major finding:

A recent poll of 800 Kansas voters conducted by renowned Republican pollster Fred Steeper found that Kansas voters overwhelmingly support allowing all types of stem cell research and treatments in Kansas and oppose any state-level bans on stem cell research or treatments allowed under federal law. By a margin of more than two-to-one, Kansas voters said they support allowing both adult and early, or embryonic, stem cell research in the state and oppose a proposed law that would impose a state ban on the type of stem cell research called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT).


Steeper found that Kansas voters approve of using stem cells from the SCNT process by a margin of 69% to 28%, approve of stem cell research using leftover fertility clinic embryos by a margin of 66% to 33%, and favor allowing SCNT research in Kansas by a margin of 70% to 27%.

What's stunning is that SCNT is what's often described as "therapeutic cloning," a technique that people like our own Sam Brownback has invested quite a bit of effort demonizing.

By an overwhelming 79% to 19%, Kansas voters say they agree that the basic policy of Kansas should be that “any stem cell research, therapies or cures that are permitted by federal law should be allowed in Kansas – provided that such activities are conducted ethically and safely and do not involve human cloning to create babies.”

“The voters’ support of such a policy exists both before and after they hear major arguments made by opponents and supporters of stem cell research,” said Steeper. “The questioning explicitly informed them that such a policy would allow the use of stem cells taken from leftover fertility clinic embryos and from the SCNT process, as well as the use of adult stem cells. After hearing this information and pro and con arguments, Kansas voters say they would support such a policy by a wide margin. Also, by a more than four-to-one margin, those who ‘strongly favor’ outnumber those who ‘strongly oppose’ by 53 percent to 13 percent.”

What's also surprising is that this goes against what the legislature did, which was to put limits on the use of state biotech funds for this sort of cutting-edge research.

People tend not to buy the argument that embryonic stem cells mean destroying a human life, and tend not to buy the claim that adult stem cells can do everything that embryonic stem cells can do.

While polling on this issue can be easily biased by the phrasing of questions, I don't see anything that looks badly biased. I do wonder why certain options weren't rotated, but I don't see how that would produce as wide a margin as we see here.

This suggests that even in the heart of the anti-stem cell movement, the public wants scientific progress more than theological hairsplitting (it's worth noting that Jewish law did not consider life to start until substantially after conception).

It also suggests that, at the very least, politicians who push for broader funding for this sort of research will suffer no backlash, and have a natural constituency who could be motivated to back them against the attacks by religious authoritarians, who prefer to protect their own morality than give medicine to people who see no problem with this research.

Thanks to Nate for the tip.