Fewer than half of the delegates to next month's Republican convention want to keep strong anti-abortion language in the party's platform, a survey shows.
In a telephone survey by the Associated Press, 41 percent of the delegates headed for San Diego said they wanted to retain the platform's language supporting a constitutional amendment to ban abortions; 34 percent opposed it; and 25 percent did not know or did not answer the question.
The results indicate a surprising lack of consensus on the abortion issue among Republican activists considered more conservative than the public at large.
Presumptive nominee Bob Dole, who refined his position several times since trouncing commentator Pat Buchanan in the GOP primaries, said last week he wants to keep the anti-abortion plank but add language acknowledging that not all Republicans share the same position on the emotionally charged issue.
"These results show what Bob Dole has maintained all along, that you can be a good Republican and hold diverse views on the plank," said campaign spokesman Nelson Warfield.
Activists on both sides have expressed displeasure with Dole's compromise.
Some supporters of the platform language say tolerance language should not mention abortion specifically because Republicans disagree about many issues. And opponents say mentioning that some Republicans have other views masks the fact that the platform should not address abortion to begin with.
"There's no question that the plank will stay. I think there still could end up being an argument over Dole's tolerance language," said Gary L. Bauer, president of the Family Research Council and an outspoken abortion opponent.
"Things are stretched real tight right now," Bauer said in a telephone interview. "I don't think the Dole forces realize how tense this party is right now."
The survey, which includes responses from 1,891 of the 1,990 GOP delegates, reflects some of that tension with results that divide the party by geography and sex. It also shows a delegation that takes a harder line on the abortion platform issue than GOP primary voters did.
According to primary exit polls, 57 percent of Republican voters said the issue should not be part of the platform, compared to 38 percent who said it should.
Support for the anti-abortion plank is strongest in the South and Midwest, where Dole tends to run best in trial heats against President Clinton. But delegates who oppose the plank outnumber their colleagues in the North and West, where Dole must make gains if he is to narrow the double-digit lead Clinton enjoys in most pre-election polls.
Among women, 40.4 percent said the anti-abortion language should not be in the platform, while 35.8 percent said it should stay in the document. Men, who outnumber women delegates by two to one, supported the plank, 43.5 percent to 31.3 percent.
Twenty-three state delegations show strong support for the plank, while opponents of the abortion language are in the majority in 16 other state delegations. In another 16 delegations, including the District of Columbia and several territories, the delegates are divided.