GOP Voters Favor Stem-Cell Research

Polling, advertising and grass-roots organizing, the pillars of a strong election campaign, now spill over routinely to congressional battles – embryonic stem cell research among them.

The embryonic stem cell issue flared during the 2004 presidential campaign and may soon come before the House. Republicans who dissent from President Bush’s policy are circulating a poll designed to show they have the party’s voters on their side even if many fellow GOP lawmakers are not.

The survey, taken among 800 Republican voters nationwide, showed 90 percent job approval for President Bush and 88 percent favorable support for Republicans in the House. Both levels far exceed recent results of surveys taken of voters of all political persuasions.

At the same time, 57 percent of those surveyed in the Republican-only poll said they favored embryonic stem cell research, with 40 percent opposed. On a follow-up question, 54 percent said it was more of a research issue, while 40 percent said it was more of an abortion issue.

“Anytime you see a poll like that, that’s a strong preference,” said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., the leading supporter of stem cell research. “Members of Congress understand polls. I think the other thing that’s important is who takes polls.”

In this case, the pollster was David Winston, who also does survey work for GOP leadership organizations in both the House and Senate.

Embryonic stem cell research has been a controversial issue for several years. Supporters say it holds the potential to find treatment or even cures for a variety of diseases. But abortion opponents argue it involves the taking of a nascent human life.

Bush’s policy declaration more than three years ago did little or nothing to halt the debate. Several months after taking office, he announced that stem cell lines in existence as of Aug. 9, 2001, would be eligible for federal research funds.

Castle’s legislation would allow federal funding for research on embryonic stem cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001, but only if they were developed using the same ethical guidelines that Bush laid down.

Castle said the legislation he favors has the support of 198 members of the House, including some abortion opponents. At the same time, he said, there is no indication yet that the White House is inclined to drop its opposition.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Bush’s 2004 opponent, turned the issue into one of the minor themes of his campaign for the White House, frequently accusing Bush of choosing ideology over science. Public polls at the time showed strong support for expanded research.