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Missing what the polls really tell us about public opinion on abortion

by | Jun 29, 2016

By Dave Andrusko

gallup779Is the headline that accompanies Philip Bump’s Washington Post story “The remarkably unchanging American split on abortion,”  accurate, sort of accurate, misleading, or useless?

Let’s look.

In a global sense, public opinion has not changed widely since 1973, as measured, say, by Gallup. But within that broad generalization, there are dozens of nuances that qualify, if not erase, the generalization. Here are just two.

(I will skip over the massive change in self-identification. Once upon a time, far more people identified as pro-choice than pro-life. Now the number is virtually tied. And that more people still think abortion is “morally wrong” than “acceptable.”)

#1. It wasn’t until a few years ago that Gallup took a huge step forward. Previously it did not breakout a key category which left a distinctly inaccurate impression.

Let me be more specific. Respondents are asked, “Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?”

What has made Gallup surveys much more useful in recent years is that they asked those who responded “legal only under certain circumstances” whether that meant “legal under most circumstances” or “legal only in a few circumstances.”

When you combined “legal only in a few circumstances” (37%) with illegal in all circumstances (19%)–you have 56% who say abortion should not be legal at all or (to quote Gallup) “should generally be rare, occurring in only a few circumstances.”

#2. There are large majorities for laws similar to the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. In making the case that abortion really isn’t all that important an issue, Philip switched gears to cite a poll taken in 2013 by the staunchly pro-abortion Texas Tribune, shortly before the legislature took up the law parts of which the Supreme Court tossed out Monday.

Read Bump carefully. The Tribune

asked whether laws in the state should be made more or less strict. Nearly 4 in 10 said they should be made more strict — but more than a quarter said they should be less strict.

The same poll found that conservatives were slightly more passionate in support of a ban on abortions after 20 weeks than liberals were passionately opposed.

It’s incredibly. 38% want the laws stricter and 26% want them less strict. Wouldn’t you think the emphasis should be on the former figure, which is almost half again as large as the latter? Not to Bump.

What about the “ban on abortions after 20 weeks?” []? Bump’s emphasis is that conservatives are slightly more passionate in support than liberals are in opposition.

Talk about missing the point—and more than once! A total of 62% of all Texans said they would support “prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks based on the argument that a fetus can feel pain at that point.”

Here’s what University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Tribune. Referring to all the questions the poll asked

“In terms of substantive policy, most of this is not particularly right-wing,” Shaw said. “Maybe the abortion stuff. These are abortion positions that are actually not strongly opposed — there is a 2-to-1 preference for that.” [How’s that for unbiased?]

Reporter Ross Ramsey then added

It’s a strongly partisan issue, however, with 85 percent of Republicans in favor of the ban and nearly half of the Democrats against it. Fewer than 10 percent of Republicans oppose the 20-week ban; fewer than two in five Democrats support it.

I couldn’t make heads nor tails of the polls crosstabs, but according to Ramsey, close to 40% of Democrats (“fewer than two of five”) support “prohibiting” these abortions. “Prohibiting,” by the way, is a word choice guaranteed to solicit more negative responses.

In other words, almost all Republicans support a ban on abortions after 20 weeks as does a sizable minority of Democrats. So what does Bump write about? That conservatives are slightly more passionate in support than liberals are in opposition.

And could it be a coincidence that Bump missed that there was so much support for the ban that when pro-abortionists took portions of HB 2 to court, they did not challenge the 20 week ban?!

Contrary to Bump, Americans’ opinion on abortion has changed (especially among young people)–and in a pro-life direction.

Why hasn’t it changed even more? How about articles such as “The remarkably unchanging American split on abortion”?

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Categories: Abortion Polling