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NRLC President Tobias provides deeper meaning of new Gallup Poll on abortion

by | Jun 5, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

National Right to Life President Carol Tobias

National Right to Life President Carol Tobias

On Monday, NRLC President Carol Tobias offered a very thoughtful post on what the new Gallup Poll on abortion tells us, what it means, and what it signifies.

Yesterday, writing for Bloomberg News, having interviewed Mrs. Tobias and the political director for NARAL, Emily Greenhouse offered a sophisticated explanation of what both women argued.

How? Largely by letting them speak for themselves.

You probably remember that for the first time in seven years, Gallup found more people identified as “pro-choice” (50%) than pro-life (44%). While, of course, NRLC would rather the numbers be reversed, Tobias explained that operationally, a majority is much closer to the pro-life position than the pro-choice position.

In other words when you go past self-identification to the question of what conditions people believe abortion should be legal in, you find that a majority say abortion “should be illegal in all circumstances” (19%) or legal “in only a few circumstances” (36%)–a total of 55%.

By contrast a total of just 42% said abortion should be legal “under any circumstances” (29%) or legal “in most circumstances” (13%).

“We have a majority of people who do not approve of the way abortion is being practiced in this country today,” Tobias told Greenhouse. “I’m very encouraged by the poll.”

But Tobias went much further, providing Greenberg with an education in how to understand the nuances of abortion polls. Unfortunately, Greenberg characterized this as making “a semantic argument,” which implies mere quibbles. It was just the opposite.

What Tobias did was provide a thought experiment. If a respondent said he or she believed abortion should be legal in the extreme circumstance where “the mother’s life is in danger by carrying the pregnancy to term,” this pro-lifer would fall in the “legal in only a few circumstances” category.

Yet, as Tobias told Greenhouse, 23% of those who self-identified as “pro-choice” picked that same category– “legal in only a few circumstances”!

The amusing part of Greenhouse’s story, because it was such a stretch, was Greenhouse’s convoluted rebuttal to Tobias’s assertion “that, for politicians, being pro-life is ‘always an advantage. It never hurts a pro-life candidate to take a strong pro-life candidate stand.’”

40 years of experience conclusively demonstrates that among Americans who vote on the basis of the abortion issue, there are always more who vote for the pro-life candidate than who vote for the pro-abortion candidate. That’s the facts.

“But of course that elides the semantic distinctions,” Greenhouse argues. “What if a candidate, like four percent of those polled by Gallup, were to identify as pro-life, but believe abortion should be, whatever the circumstance, legal?”

Apparently Greenhouse didn’t read her own story. Elsewhere she wrote, “A corresponding four percent who identify as pro-choice believe abortion should be ‘illegal in all circumstances.’”

Eight percent misunderstood what the label represented–4% on either side–aka a wash.

That aside, the story is very much worth reading.

Categories: Polling