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Digging deeper into another rehashed Pew abortion poll

by | Oct 18, 2018

By Dave Andrusko

I sent a friend a rehash of a rehash of a rehash of a Pew poll on abortion which is, to be honest, rather embarrassing. Not because it plows the same territory, but because its furrows, as it were, are as crooked and off center as always.

Moreover the balk—that is to say, the information the poll doesn’t turnover and examine—is hugely important.

Of course (as always), the Pew Research Center finds remarkable support for abortion. The headline to Hannah Hartig’s story reads, “Nearly six-in-ten Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.” We will dissect that in a second.

But as my friend astutely pointed out, “You know how these supposedly ‘non-partisan,’ ‘non-ideological’ organizations work. Send out these reminders of where Americans stand right before an important public event (e.g., the November elections) to reinforce a false understanding of what the public believes on abortion.”

At the bottom of the results, which came out yesterday, is this:

Note: This is an update of a post by Hannah Fingerhut, a former research analyst at the Center, originally published July 17, 2017.

Let’s see what Ms. Hartig says, which, by the way, is largely a rehash of what was written by Pew in April 2016. (To be honest, since the analysis is so repetitive, my criticisms will be along the same lines as what I wrote in critiquing Ms. Fingerhut in July 2017.)

#1. Pew, unlike Gallup, merely asks people whether they say abortion should be legal in all/most cases, or illegal in all/most cases. (For some reason she italicizes illegal.) That allows them to say that 58% of respondents believe abortion should be legal in all/most cases while 37% think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. These views are relatively unchanged in the past few years.

What to say? For starters if, as Gallup does, you ask a more discerning set of questions, you typically find that a combined total of 55% who say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances (19%) or legal in only a few circumstances (36%) Everything else that followed in Fingerhut’s analysis is colored by the way Pew frames the issue–most/all.

#2. No question there remains a stark disagreement between the major parties on abortion. Hartig writes

By a wide margin (59% to 36%), Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. In 1995, Republicans were evenly divided (49% legal vs. 48% illegal).

Views among Democrats have shifted in the other direction over the past two decades. Today, 76% of Democrats say abortion should be legal in at least most cases. In 1995, 64% favored legal abortion in all or most cases.

To be clear what does that mean? An increase of 11 points in pro-life sentiment among Republicans (48% illegal versus 59% illegal) compared to a 12% increase in pro-abortion sentiment among Democrats (64% legal versus 76% legal).

#3. Hartig writes

Among the public overall, there are no significant gender differences in views of whether abortion should be legal: 57% of men and 60% of women say it should be legal in most or all cases.

While the conclusion is correct–there is little difference between men’s and women’s views on abortion—the over support for abortion is very much inflated (as noted above) by the either/or way the question is posed.

#4. What about religion?

White evangelical Protestants continue to be opposed to abortion in all or most cases, with 61% saying it should be illegal in all or most cases, while 34% say it should be legal in at least most cases. The share of white evangelicals who say it should be illegal in all or most cases has dipped slightly since last year (from 70% in June 2017).

By contrast, the religious “nones” – those who are religiously unaffiliated – overwhelmingly support legal abortion. Roughly three-quarters (74%) say it should be legal in all or most cases, while just 21% say it should be illegal. A large majority of white mainline Protestants (67%) also say abortion should be legal.

Two thoughts. It is possible there has been a drop from 70% to 61% among White evangelical Protestants who say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. I frankly don’t believe it but I will look to see what Pew comes up with next time as well as other surveys.

Also note whose positions are conveniently not mentioned in Hartig’s story. 44% of Hispanics and 38% of Black Americans say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases.

Second, what would happen if you asked about support for a particularly pro-life initiative? For example, The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act which says you can’t abort kids capable of experiencing unfathomable amounts of pain as they are executed.

It has huge support among the public at large. A national poll taken the day of the November 2016 elections found widespread backing that extended across all demographic and geographic boundaries.

  • Millennial voters —      78% support
  • Women voters —         67% support
  • African Americans —  70% support
  • Hispanics —                 57% support

The public is very receptive to pro-life initiative after pro-life initiative

Categories: Polling