June 16, 2004 -- Less than two weeks after former President Ronald Reagan's death, public support for stem cell research is already growing in response to Nancy Reagan's call for lifting federal restrictions on stem cell research.
The first public opinion survey after Reagan's death shows that 74% of Americans say they are more likely to support stem cell research in the wake of his death, including 79% of moderates, 62% of conservatives, and 62% of fundamentalist or evangelical Christians.
"The bottom line is that when roughly 3 of 4 Americans think Nancy Reagan is right in pressing the Bush White House to lift restrictions on stem cell research, what you have is a fundamental shift in the way average Americans look at this issue," says Civil Society Institute President Pam Solo.
The telephone survey of more than 1,000 adults was conducted June 10-23 by Opinion Research Corp. on behalf of the Results for America project of the nonprofit Civil Society Institute.
Reagan suffered from Alzheimer's disease before his death, and researchers believe stem cell research may be used to eventually develop new treatments and possibly even cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, type 1 diabetes, and spinal cord injuries.
Support Growing for Stem Cell Research
Embryonic stem cells are cells that can develop into any type of cell in the human body. The cells are extracted from donated frozen embryos in fertility clinics, and the extraction process destroys the embryo.
Stem cells can then reproduce on their own, creating what is called a line of stem cells for researchers to work with.
In August 2001, President George W. Bush restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to stem cell lines created before that time. Research on stem cell lines created after that time cannot receive federal funding.
Researchers say public support for stem cell research has grown dramatically since then. When asked for their initial views on medical research using human embryos, a survey conducted in 2001 showed 48% of Americans supported it and 43% were opposed. This survey shows that margin has grown to 60% and 26%.
"Where you could argue in 2001 that the country was almost split on the issue, here there is a clearly a majority in favor four years later," says Wayne Russum, senior researcher at Opinion Research Corporation.
When the potential benefits of stem cell research were explained in a separate question, overall support rose to 72% with 23% opposed.
Researchers say Nancy Reagan's clout as a spokeswoman for stem cell research is also much greater since the death of her husband. A March 2004 survey in 18 key states showed 65% of Americans recognized the former first lady as a credible spokesperson on stem cell research issues. This survey shows that number has grown to 80%.
"In today's survey, Nancy Reagan, on a national basis, trails only national medical groups at 88% in terms of being able to speak out with authority on stem cell research issues," says Russum.
Researchers say the survey indicates that stem cell research is rapidly approaching bipartisan status. When asked about initial views on stem cell research, 75% of liberals expressed support, followed by 67% of moderates and 47% of conservatives. After the explanation of the potential benefits of stem cell research, support grew to 81% of moderates and 60% of conservatives.
The margin of error for the survey of 1,017 adults is plus or minus three percentage points.