NRL News

Pew Poll on Abortion Absurdly Inaccurate

by | Jan 21, 2013

By Dave Andrusko


Here we are the day before the 40th anniversary of the wretched Roe v. Wade decision and even the Pew Research Center can’t get straight the full breadth of the 1973 decision

The headlines to the stories reporting on the new Pew poll vary, of course, but in large measure they track the title of Pew’s report: “Roe v. Wade at 40: Most Oppose Overturning Abortion Decision.”

Stay with me here, because there is a lot that is revealed in the 11-page report and lot more that grotesquely misrepresents reality.

It is true that there has been little movement in the responses to the question should Roe be “completely overturn[ed]?” In 1992. 34% agreed; in 2003, 31% agreed; in 2013, 29% were in favor. But hold the fort, this is absurdly misleading.

To begin with what is it that the respondent is told to comment on? “In 1973, the Roe versus Wade decision established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?”

39 years and 359 days later, we have a major research organization characterizing Roe’s abortion on demand holding “as established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy.” Goodness, I thought that canard had finally been laid to rest at least a decade, if not more, ago.

So, point one. Radically underreport what Roe (and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton) concluded. That way Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, can say that it is uncommon to see so little change in attitudes on a controversial issue. “They [attitudes] really haven’t changed a lot over the years which is kind of interesting because a lot of other social issues have changed a lot,” Dimock told Reuters.

Point two, while there has not been much change in the public’s response to this erroneously-posed question, much of the public still doesn’t know what Roe v. Wade was about (an ignorance that’s obviously not been remedied by groups like Pew).

Only 62% knew it dealt with abortion, 20% didn’t know, period, and 7% thought Roe was about school desegregation!

“Younger people are less likely to know what Roe v. Wade was about,” Reuters reported. “While most respondents over 30 knew Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion, only 44 percent of those under 30 knew this, the poll found.”

Reuters’ Mary Wisniewski then adds helpfully, “The question over whether the decision should be overturned was asked after it was defined to respondents.”

Point three there is no gender disparity. 64% of women did not want Roe “completely overturned,” compared to 63% of men.

Likewise, there was a very modest generational difference. “Those most likely to favor upholding Roe v. Wade at 69 percent are the ‘baby boomers’ aged 50-64, who were children or young adults when the case was decided on January 22, 1973,” according to Wisniewski. “This group was followed by those 18-29 years old, who favored upholding the decision by 68 percent.”

Point Four, 47% say having an abortion is morally wrong. Only 10% of women and 16% of men said it was morally acceptable to have an abortion while 27% said abortion is “not a moral issue.”

“A majority of every religious group sampled–white evangelicals (73%), black Protestants (58%) and Catholics (58%) and a plurality of white mainline Protestants (36%)–responded that abortion was morally wrong,” CNN reported. “Those respondents who find it morally wrong are also overwhelmingly likely to support overturning the law, compared with keeping it intact–85% to 5%.”

And, not surprisingly, “The religiously unaffiliated were the only group in which more people say they find abortion morally acceptable rather than wrong. Twenty-four percent of the group said it was acceptable, compared with 20% who said it was wrong. Nearly half (43%) said it was not a moral issue.”

You can read the introduction and the full report at so let me end with one other intriguing finding.

“The survey finds that 41% say that the Democrat party can do a better job of representing their view on abortion; nearly as many (36%) say the Republican Party could do better,” Pew reports, an advantage of 5 points. “Last March, the Democratic Party held a 16-point advantage a better representing people’s view on abortion (47% to 31%).”

Categories: Polling